I browse pornhub for the articles. Not only is this an interesting article on the drop in traffic during the Hawaii Missile Alert, I also discovered that their insight's blog has a lot of good data analysis type articles. The blog itself is SFW with no bad images, though of course the logo and items mentioned in the articles themselves would not be. #yourtech-dailies

bits and bobs for 2017

Abusing my blog to record a few things. This is kind of a year-end wrap-up before Christmas, or a pre-pre New Years Eve post. I am off work till the end of the year, so this is kind of a good week to reflect and prepare for the upcoming year.

I cover a couple different things in this post, find the section you want.

  • Home Security Cameras
  • Financial Tools (quicken, ledger, hledger, beancount)

Security Cameras

tl;dr - I recommend Q-See NVR, refurbished 16-channel for $250 with 2TB drive

I've got a few cameras around my house. Two of them are analog cameras on a cheap LA View dvr bought off of woot (I've replaced it twice). I've ran zoneminder to pull the RTSP stream from it.

I also have some really cheap ESCAM 720p cameras. These things are amazingly cheap, and can be had for under $40. Zoneminder can pull these in as well.

The problem is that I keep finding zoneminder in some broken state. I also am not a fan of the "each frame is a file" apprach. I've started using shinobi. I like that better, but feel limited. Also, several times a week, one of the camera feeds goes dark and I have to re-enable it. I got a Windows PC setup and tried out iSpy. GenisuVision, and Xeoma. None of them have really stood out as a great system.

I decided to try out a more expensive hardware NVR. First I tried an Amcrest NVR, but it couldn't work with any of my existing cameras. Returned. I have a colleague that is a big fan of Q-See Analog DVRs, and the mobile app is pretty slick. I found a good deal on a refurbished 16-channel NVR for $250 with a 2TB hard drive included. This was an instant success. It picked up my ESCAM right away and starts recording.

The mobile app is a dream.

I do get higher resolution images, but when scaled for mobile playback and on a screenshot, obviously the resolution suffers.

Downsides: There is a downside in that accessing it with a web browser sucks - on MacOS it requires Safari and a binary plugin. However, they do have desktop clients for Mac and Windows. Once again, Linux is left out in the cold. I might still end up running Shinobi against the QTSee (or the cams directly) for a simple remote web interface.

The other downside is that I couldn't get my analog dvr added to the system. This isn't too big of a downer, because I'm going to replace those analog 480p cams with the higher quality 720p ESCams (maybe eventually 1080p cams).


tl;dr - I'm going to switch from Quicken to beancount for double-entry plain-text accounting.

I am planning to get a better handle on my finances in 2018. We're meeting all our bill payments, but I'm definitely not where I want to be with knowing where our money is going and planning for the future. For years, I used nothing substantial. I would do some balancing in spreadsheets, or try to use Mint, and I had Quicken for my business. In 2016, I used hledger for about 4 months to track finances. I really liked the concept of plain text accounting, but ultimately ended up purchasing Quicken and using that through the end of 2016 and all of 2017. I can essentially take a Tuesday and sync all my transactions down and reconcile it. In the world of personal finance, there are several camps, but two big ones are those that prefer syncing historical data (mint, quicken) and those that want you to be budget every transaction in advance, such as You Need A Budget and Every Dollar. There is overlap, especially since YNAB and EveryDollar have added syncing to their offerings. Plain Text Accounting/ledger/hledger fall into the second camp, with no sync capabilities.

That being said, I have used a program called reckon to import my main bank account into hledger. You go onto your bank website, download a CSV for a certain date range, and import it in. Even with Reckon, it was time consuming, and that's what led me to switch to Quicken. However, after using Quicken for 1.5 years, that can get time consuming as well. My family and I have a handful of credit cards, a mortgage, a car loan, checking accounts, savings accounts, 401k, roth ira, college savings, student loans, and a lot of transactions. For the most part, the bulk of our activity centers around a joint checking account. Just maintaining that one account in Quicken is a big time sink. If I don't update every Tuesday, it can take several hours to catch it up. This is because Quicken might mis or duplicate a transaction from the bank. Or something weird will happen. I might have everything caught up perfectly, and then the next time I'm in, I'll discover my balances are off going back 3 months. I'll have to spend time comparing statements and daily balances, going almost transaction by transaction - finding the most recent time when the balances match, then moving forward and fixing whatever caused it to diverge. I'll get things looking correct, then I'll jump forward a month and realize I had missed a divergence somewhere and I'll have to go back. By the time I get the main account squared away, I don't really feel like validating all the other accounts. If my Discover card balance is off, then I'll just have to go in an add a BALANCE ADJUSTMENT entry to bring it in line. I was trying to split my loan payments between principal and interest, but that went by the wayside.

Since I'm spending all of this time on Quicken reading every statement anyways, I decided I wouldn't be loosing much by going back to ledger. In fact, some banks such as US Bank has stopped offering integration with Quicken. So I'm going to start a brand new file and start tracking. This time, I'm going to dig around into web scraping. There are a lot of people out there that write tools to automatically log into their bank and download their CSV files. If I can semi-automate their retrieval, that will be a big win. I will also continue to use quickbooks to at least sync the data, but mainly to keep it as a backup if I decide to stop using ledger. I probably will not use it, but there is a quickbook to ledger converter

While I was reviewing hledger, I found another system called beancount. It is another plaintext double-entry accounting system, but it's designed to have [less trust in the user entering data]
(https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dW2vIjaXVJAf9hr7GlZVe3fJOkM-MtlVjvCO1ZpNLmg/edit?pli=1#heading=h.2ax1dztqboy7). There is a ledger2beancount tool, so I can import any ledger files I had previously or make along the way (though right now I'm looking at a fresh start), and beancount itself provides a solid export to ledger.

I'm going to start with beancount and see where it takes me. I might bounce a bit between beancount and ledger/hledger along the way. Beancount has some really nice web reports, and their example user in the tutorial sounds rather familiar.

Worst case, I can drift back to Quicken.

Impressive Notebook

Those of you that know me probably wouldn't guess this, but I actually work with a bunch of nerds, geeks, and freaks. Pretty much all of my coworkers have smartphones, and many of them have at least one tablet. Every time a new portable computing device launches, it's a guarantee that someone in my group will show up with it. Since all these devices are nearly similar, no one is really impressed when a new one shows up in the office.

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine was studying for the GMAT test. With the GMAT materials is several sheets of laminated graph bound together. The idea is that you can practice on this with dry-erase markers while studying. I thought this was an ingenious idea. I had once tried to use a small whiteboard for temporary notes, but it lost its usefulness after a few notes. The graph paper "notebook" worked out to about 6 long sheets (3 pages front and back, legal sized), so you had plenty of room to take notes. I looked them up online, and one pad was running around $25. I tabled that idea.

This week, I remembered the pad and thought "I could just get some graph paper and laminate it myself!". I stopped in a Big Lots and Dollar General. No graph paper. Then I went to target and found some. But while I was looking at that and trying to decide how I would bind it, I came across a  5-Star Flex Binder. The binder itself could be opened flat and came with dividers, graph paper, and regular lined paper for $10. I figured this would work out better than any homemade solution I would come up with.

Anyways, I carried this thing fresh from the store into work. It caught everyone's attention. In the parking lot, a coworker was like "look at you all impressive with your notebook". I had it lying on my desk and everyone that passed it took notice. Where a $500 tablet gets a yawn, my $10 notebook was drawing a surprising amount of interest. I may have started something new.

To complete my story, I discovered that I did NOT have to laminate the graph paper. Three of the "divider pages had an insert for a full sheet of paper. I was able to place the graph paper into these plastic sheathes and they work great for dry erase markers.



It was a  so I can definitely see why they are envious. Even the binder rings are flexible!

For Sale: Dirt Devil Ultra Vision Turbo.

For Sale:  Dirt Devil Ultra Vision Turbo.
Price: Make an offer
"It Kinda Sucks" - John Hogenmiller, USMC

I once owned a regular Bissel bagged vacuum cleaner.  For the better part of a decade, I would turn it on and vacuum the floor. Before that, my sister owned the vacuum and did pretty much the same thing.  It was a rather boring device that picked up debris from the carpet and would place it in a bag.

Like all good things, this boring vacuum cleaner broke.  A plastic part that held the upright portion to the base developed a crack.  This prevented the belt from tightening properly, leading to breakages.  Perhaps some JB weld would have held this piece together.  However, we had received some money from our wedding and decided to replace this 10+ year old appliance.

We picked up a Dirt Devil Ultra Vision Turbo.  Robin had been saying she wanted something red, shiny, powerful, and fast.  I felt this "turbo" vacuum cleaner would fit the bill.  As we began using it, I often thought back to how boring the old Bisell was compared to this new vacuum.  You see, Dirt Devil had done some research and found that most people found vacuuming to be a boring job.  In a survey, 93% of all respondents stated that they would rather do "anything else" than vacuum.  Dirt Devil decided to change all this.  They had all the data.  People hated vacuuming.  The Ultra Vision Turbo was designed: not so much with vacuuming in mind - but to challenge people.
That's right.  Before getting this vacuum, it had never occured to fight with my vacuum.  It never occured to me to question its functionality.  Dirt Devil has changed the way I look at vacuuming.  The first thing I noticed when we first used it was that it seemed to only pick up half the dirt.  In fact, I often had to question if it was picking up the dirt or if it was just spreading it around.  I knew that if I turned it off in one room and carried it to another, dirt from the first room would be deposited in the second.  This was part of the mental challenge.

The next thing I noticed was that it was constantly getting clogged.  With the older bagged vacuums, air flowed through a 1" x 3" straight plastic chamber to the bag.  With the new bag-less (and even most of the bagged) vacuums, this is replaced with a 1.5" diameter bendy hose.  This feature isn't specific to Dirt Devil, but it does an amazing job of trapping dirt, lint, and dog hair in each bend.  The cool thing that Dirt Devil did is that they require you to use a philips screwdriver to remove the hose enough to unclog it.  You can plan on doing this at least once for every two times you vacuum.

The other nifty feature of this vacuum is a thin, fragile belt.  The thin belt is crucial.  If you had a durable belt like the older vacuums did, you might never have to replace it.  Our last vacuum had the same belt for over 10 years -- the original belt from the store.   With the Dirt Devil, you get to replace the belt once a year or more.  The vacuum currently needs its third belt in under two years.  Much like the last time I went to pick up one of these belts from the store, Wal-Mart is sold out.  They are a hot commodity.  They have the same exact vacuum, some filters, and an empty peg where the belts would go.  It's a lot like new game consoles being sold out everywhere, but for all eternity.
Sometimes.. you just don't know what the problem is.  In this case, you do exploratory maintenance.  This involves taking the vacuum apart and cursing at it until it works again.

So if you're looking for a vacuum that needs maintenance as much as your floor needs vacuumed, the Dirt Devil Ultra Vision Turbo is for you.   I picked up a Bissel bag-less.  I would have got the bagged version, but I saw it had the same hose setup as the bagless.  It did get the clogged hose, but the hose is transparent.  I can see the clog.  It lets me stretch the hose out to get the clog moving again.  It also picks up all the dirt I can see or feel with my bare feet.  It fails to dump dirt from one room into another.  It is.. a boring vacuum.

My Time

Yes, it is my time.
Last monday on the elliptical: 3 miles = 21:16 (~7 minute mile)
Today: 3 miles = 19:26 (~6.5 minute mile)
Next time?  Who knows.  I am excited about being able to set this pace, however I have to temper that with the understanding that running on an elliptical is much, much easier than running on flat ground.
On the 13th, we managed to capture Sean on camera trespassing at my parent's house.  I've got some great photos of him and a decent amount of footage.  Not so awesome that he did it, but truly awesome that we got solid evidence now.  After the hearing, I'm planning to put that stuff up somewhere.
After the surveillance gig and talking with the troopers, I put some flooring down, and then went on a cruise in the afternoon.
Evil John and Kimber tied the knot this weekend.  I've got the raw photos uploaded from both the bachelor party and the wedding itself.  By raw, I mean all of them, including the ones that are too dark or blurry or aimed wrong.  This location will probably go away in the future, but anyone wanting to get to them now can click here: bachelor party, wedding.
And now.. I don't have any more weddings till November, so I can finish some construction.  This week, I hope to finish up the inside of the downstairs bathroom, getting the sink in and everything.  Oh, speaking of that, on the way from the wedding to the reception, I spotted a free sink top on the side of the road.  I went back out to it yesterday and it was still there.  The sink top turned out to be exactly 25 inches, which is the size I needed.  So all I need to get is the base and faucet.  If I have time this weekend, I will try and do some carpet shopping, which is pretty much the next step.
The first weekend in August will be getting rid of the rest of the monitors and clearing out the storage shed.  Carpet down, trim in place, move furniture down, and build a shower in the basement.  Then, I can finally start on the upstairs bathroom.  Fun fun.

Purple Triangulation

So I've been noticing these purple triangles have been invading our trees. Along the roads, trees would be found with this big hollow purple triangle hanging off of it.
High triangleClose up
What wasn't immediately apparent is what they are up there for. If it was just one or two, I'd say some kids put them up there (unfortunate kite incident). However, these things are everywhere, giving it a more ominous and official vibe. Some of my first ideas was having to deal with checking pollen levels or getting a sample of bugs in the area.
Over the weekend, I took some pictures and was going to ask any resident know-it-all readers to weigh in with what these could be. I uploaded the pictures yesterday and was going to put out my plea for information today. This is after seeing these triangles for several weeks. However, just today, the Gazette had an article about them. I haven't seen it yet, but Robin tells me that there is a certain type of beetle that is killing trees in PA. These triangles act like super fly strips in order to catch the beetles.
External link: http://paemeraldashborer.psu.edu/

Not My Time

(unless your talking about my worst time).
Today the dream has ended and the fantasy has been washed away. After keeping the pace for a whopping 0.2 miles, my shins hurt and I just couldn't make myself go on running. So began my walk home. It's been many months since the elliptical, over a year since I ran anywhere. Riding the bike did little more than delude myself. A 2 mile bike ride on flat ground is not exercise, it's just a way to make you think that you're doing something good.
I've noticed myself putting on the pounds. Wii Fit says I'm obese and have a fitness age in the mid-40s. Today, I showed myself just how out of shape I am. No longer can I coast on remembered health from yesteryear, it's time to drastically change.
So let's see. First trial "run" (ie, walk) from work to the flat was 5067 steps, or 2.4 miles in a total of 37 minutes, 21 seconds. So across Sterling Blvd, I can walk around a 15-minute mile; burning 136 "kcals". Setting a goal, I want to get a 23 minute 3-mile run (or an average of 7.6 minute mile), so this particular course I should achieve in ~18 minutes.  Then, it will be my time.
It's not my time
I'm not going
There's a fear in me
It's not showing
This could be the end of me
And everything I know
It's not my time
I'm not going
There's a will in me
Now it's gonna show
This could be the end of me
And everything I know
I won't go
There might be more than you believe
There might be more than you can see
It's not my time

Strange Call Redux

Checking my voicemail:

"Hi John, this is Jim from *snip*.  I'm calling about a camera that was proposed to be put on my building. Give me a call back at 814-472-xxxx ext yyyy."

I don't recognize the name or know anything about the camera.  However, I have installed a few security cameras in my life and given out cards a couple years ago to people that were interested.  Then, I look up the number -- it's in  Meadville.  I have never been to Meadville -- all of 3 hours away.  Does my Yellow Book ad reach Meadville?  It might, but it doesn't have my first name or cell phone number on it.
I call this fellow back and told him I was returning his call.  He was like

"I spoke with a gentleman today, Chris somebody, about putting a camera on our building.  I was wondering how you guys would access that through our firewall."

I told him that he might actually have the wrong company, or that someone was supposed to give me a heads up that never did -- since until this call, I have never heard of their company or that I would have to access their camera through their firewall.  He then consulted a printed out email (from that Chris character) which had my cell phone number and the name was John S---.  So that's interesting.
Once I informed him that while it was my number, my first name, it was not my last name (plus the fact I am 3 hours away).  We discussed the oddity of that wrong number also being a John that has a computer firm and has worked with security cameras, but all in all, it was still the wrong number.

May Change

For only 5 days into May, it's been fairly eventful.
Robin is graduating this month -- the pinning ceremony was on the 2nd and her graduation is on the 10th.  Of course, before she even got to go to her pinning ceremony, I had a few questions for her.  The first question (both chronologically and in order of importance) was "Does it fit?" (it did) and the second question was "Do you want to be my wife?" (to which the answer was "Of Course!").
We're still working on the small details like dates and locations, as well as the big ones like what to put on the gift registry.  We'll try and keep people updated.
Probably the biggest thing going on this month is that I moved the countertop that was in the front room (my primary workshop area), de-constructed it, and re-assembled it in the new workshop area (the former junk room).  Over the next couple months, I plan on moving the living room from the upstairs to this newly emptied area, creating both a tv room/den and a living room area.

Strange Calls

I was in Anne Arundel County on Friday and Saturday.
On Monday, I get a missed call from Hanover, MD on the cell phone.  I call it back later in the day thinking it's either a friend or family  or a family member in the area.  A "Jim" answers the phone and has no clue who I am or that he called my number.
So that was kid of odd getting a random, wrong number, from a place I was just at two days ago.
Today, I check my voicemail from the shop, and a 410 # --- the same 410 phone number.  This time, it's a James Trucker (name changed, but not the Jim I called back) wondering if I'm hiring.
So now it seems someone from that area tried my shop for a job and also knew my cell phone number (which isn't exactly posted on the business website).  Granted, my cell phone number is posted on here under my resume -- but the two sites don't link to each other (and my full name isn't on the business website).  With some strong research, you can find that I own my consulting firm and find this site from that name (and then my cell) from that fact, but a typical cold calling job applicant probably wouldn't try to cold call the owner on his cell right off the bat.
The best I can figure is that a business card of mine slipped out and if flitting about the area, but I don't see how (as the only time I took my wallet out was to pay a toll).
I'm not hiring (I'm a one man show here), but I might call the guy back again from the shop phone just out of curiosity.