Monday, December 26, 2016

Recovering and repairing MP4 files from a Samsung Galaxy Tab

So the mother-in-law somehow deletes a bunch of MP4 files off her tablet.  It's a Samsung Galaxy something-or-other.  I don't care about it so I don't know.

I tried three recovery programs:
Wise Data Recovery

All of them pulled about the same reports and same files.   I only attempted JPG recovery with Recuva, though both of the others offered.  I also tried Pandora, but it did not appear to support MP4 files.

Of the three, Undelete360 appeared to pull 1 or 2 more workable MP4 files.  The rest were identified MP4s, but were corrupt, and not playable on VLC or Media Player.

I then tried the File Repair utility, which claimed there was nothing to repair.  Low marks here since it did not repair a single MP4 out of 20 attempts.

After some research I tried the Grau GmbH Video Repair Utility.  It worked and repaired all of the MP4 files.  Unfortunately the demo only repairs half the file and 99 euro is too expensive for bad holiday videos.

(I know there is a trick to get around this, but honestly I'm too lazy to bother.  These were not my files and they were not worth 99 Euros.  The 29 Euro option only fixes 5 files.)

Regardless, Grau was the only utility that worked.  File Repair did nothing and online converters wanted $49/video for a repair.

So, if you are in a pinch and it's worth 99 Euro, go ahead and buy Grau.  Or don't and try the free demo to see if it WILL work, then buy it if it is worth it.  It worked for me.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Computer becomes almost - but not completely - unresponsive at the same time each week

Problem:  PC becomes virtually unresponsive at about the same time each week.  You can move the mouse fine, and possibly Alt-Tab around a bit.  Doing anything else results in a hang that lasts 5-15 minutes, at which point the PC will "unfreeze" for 10-15 seconds, then go back to being unresponsive.

Debugging is almost impossible since the computer only works for a few seconds every 5-10 minutes.  Meaning you cannot realistically look at Task Manager or any other program to identify the offending process.  This particular bug can take hours or days to sort out, 15 seconds at a time.

What you can do:

1.  Set the following programs running while the computer is still responsive:

-  Windows Task Manager (Ctrl-Shift-Esc)
-  Resource Monitor (run "resmon.exe")
Process Explorer


 -  Set Task Manager to "Processes" and "Show processes for all users".

-  Set all programs to order processes by CPU time

If you can, set these up so they're always visible on a second/third monitor.  Alternatively, set them up on another desktop (i.e. Dexpot).

By running these proactively, you will at least have the chance to identify the program/process that's gone crazy.  Even if the PC hangs, the last good updates to these programs should tell you which process is taking all of your CPU time; all you have to do is make/keep them visible, which should not take too long.

Regardless, as the problem is (approximately) a weekly occurrence, you want to look for something that is scheduled to run weekly.

Possible solutions:

1.  Antivirus scans are typically set to run weekly.  Try disabling the antivirus scanning temporarily.

2.  Windows Update is broken and is hanging while searching for an update.  In this case, one of the scvhost.exe processes will be taking a lot of CPU.

Conventional wisdom has it that most of these hangs are the results of an scvhost.exe process that hosts Windows Update process wuauserv.  The cause is a borked / broken Windows update, leading to a situation where the wuauserv ends up constantly searching for updates, hogging the CPU in the process.

This manifests as wuauserv taking excessive CPU time.  This is visible in Resource Monitor if you select the right scvhost.exe (there are normally several) or Process Explorer.  In Task Manager you will only see one of the scvhost.exe instances taking CPU, but you can't tell which underlying process is actually the culprit.

As Windows 7 is end-of-life and is unlikely to get any future updates, simply turning off the Windows Update service in Control Panel should solve any issues with wuauserv.exe.  For other problems, you may have to kill the underlying offending routine, figure out what it was trying to do, and disable that feature/program permanently.

[Update]:  This could be an early symptom of a failing hard drive.  If your hard drive indicator light stays on solid, or nearly solid, Windows might be trying to use a drive that is not working properly any more.  See this post for more details.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Windows 7 Resource Monitor Maximum Frequency

I've had to pore through a lot of gobbledygook as to what the "Maximum Frequency" number really means in the Windows 7 Resource Monitor.

What is means is:  How fast your CPU is physically clocking, compared to how fast it could be clocking.

What it does not mean is:
-  How much load your CPU is actually experiencing.  This is shown by "CPU Usage".
-  How much load your CPU has been experiencing, i.e. a historical or "peak hold" value.  This is not displayed in Resource Monitor.

This figure might be less than 100% if the system is dynamically changing CPU frequency to save power.  So Maximum frequency might be more or less than 100%, depending on how your system behaves and how much power it is trying to save.  This is expected behavior.


-  For a desktop, maximum frequency might stay at 100% permanently.  This is because the system has no need to reduce CPU frequency to save power.  

-  For an overclocked" processor, the value might be more than 100%.  This is because the CPU can run faster than the "normal frequency.

-  For laptops and desktops with power-saving modes enabled, max frequency may be less than 100% and may skip around.  The computer does this automatically to save energy.  It will rise to 100% when the CPU has real work to do.

-  For laptops or desktops with some kind of heatsink or heat-dissipation problem, maximum frequency might stick low, not vary much (if at all) and/or never reach at or near 100%.  This is because the CPU is automatically reducing its own frequency to keep itself from self-destructing.


-  If your CPU maximum frequency is at 100% or more, you're fine.
-  If your CPU maximum frequency is less than 100% but is skipping around, you're fine.
-  If your CPU maximum frequency is stuck very low, you are not fine.  First thing to check is your CPU heatsinking arrangements to make sure it is not burning up.

Note:  Unexplained random hangs are also a symptom of a hot CPU.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Suggestions for a useful motorcycle tool kit

@#$%# Firefox just ate my post.  Here we go again:

Like most motorcycles, my (used) bike came with a toolkit.  However, experience showed it was not that useful.  I did not find a lot of help out there with respect to tool kits specific to motorcycles, so here's what I've ended up with.

The most common problem I had with the bike was a dead battery.  This has only happened a few times in ten years, but does require the seat to be removed for a jump.  Oddly, the factory toolkit does not include the right tools for this.

Here is the stock tool kit.  Obviously some of these might prove useful if you were doing certain types of work.  I would say that if you're in such a situation, you're probably screwed, since you ain't going to be going anywhere soon, but you never know.

I have a tough time seeing how many of these are even vaguely useful for my motorcycle.  The big wrenches, OK - though if you're needing to remove a major bolt, you are (again) probably screwed - but I do not see how the pliers or box-end wrenches are useful since you can't access most of the fasteners with them.  You certainly cannot get to the seat fasteners with the provided wrenches.

The tools I use most on the bike are a ratchet handle and sockets, and the kit does not come with either.  It also does not come with any hex keys or bits, which are necessary to remove panels from the bike (not that I want to do major repairs in the field, but being able to remove and discard wrecked panels is a benefit.).  So I wanted to add them.

The ratchet handle proved the most problematic.  Most are $30 and up and are not small enough to stow in the bike.  Eventually I re-discovered a small mini handle I'd seen before, on eBay for about $2.  This was the right size, price point and durability for what I needed - the seat bolts are not high-torque bolts, obviously.

Here's the finished add-on kit:

Most of these I had just lying around; the rest were on eBay for next to nothing.  I think the long extension was the most costly, but I needed the extensions to get the seat off the bike.

I could also have done away with the screwdriver handle, but I had an extra one and it was not too large for my purposes.  Also, if the ratchet or screwdriver break, the other tool acts as a backup.

I could also make do with 2 of the sockets and 2-3 of the hex bits.  But they are all small so why not include all. I mostly threw them in on the very off chance that I might end up fixing somebody elses' bike.

The bits were small enough, in fact, to fit into a little mini Altoids tin, which helps keep them organized.  (Not the standard size tin, the mini one):

The resulting package was about the same size as the stock toolkit, but hopefully more useful:

And it tucks away nicely next to the stock toolkit in the little storage compartment on my bike:

Both kits fit so I keep them both, rather than replacing the old kit with the new kit.  I also keep other items like zip ties, a small roll of duct tape, a couple of light sticks and a flashlight elsewhere in that same compartment.

I tested the toolkit and was able to get the seat off the bike with little trouble, as well as work on most of the obvious fasteners and adjustments.  So I guess it will work well enough in a pinch, which is the point.

You will note I did not include a multi-tool.  IMHO having the discrete tools I need obviates the need for a multi-tool, so keeping one will not add value, but you could easily toss one in in an attempt to cover all bases.

However, a "good" multi-tool will cost multiples of what it costs to assemble a kit similar to mine - $100-$150 for a "good" multi-tool vs. about $20 for all of the individual tools, which are arguably more useful.  Also, most multi-tools will still not get the seat off my bike, which was my most important goal.  (Supplanting a bit-capable multi-tool with additional bits just adds to the cost.)

I carry a few little tools with me all the time anyway, and for long trips I keep a Leatherman in my riding suit pocket.  Not because I needed one, but because I have one, so why not.  But I don't think I would go out of my way to buy a multi-tool for the bike since most will not include adequate sockets, bits or such for working on that vehicle.

Update 2016-12:  Canadian Tire was selling stubby ratchet handles and stubby interchangeable-bit screwdrivers for $3 over Christmas.  As these are cheap, small, and reasonably durable, either or both of these would be a good addition or substitution tool for what I have above.  The drivers are about half-size - not full-size, nor a true stubby - and should be just about right.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Why does everything suck - Index card edition

It seems the general deterioration of everything into general junk has eroded even the paper industry beyond all hope.  As Chris Norstrom aptly puts it here, there is, in fact, a conspiracy - one is intended to prevent righteous and right-minded people from buying good, old-fashioned 3x5 index cards that don't suck.

Basically, nobody seems to product index cards made of card stock any more.  Which is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.

Index cards are supposed to be made of 110 lb. card stock.  That's why it's called CARD STOCK, y'know?

But even index cards are no longer made with card stock any more; it seems that, at best, you might be able to find 70-80 lb. weight cards nowadays.  (Some seem as thin as 40 lb, or about twice the thickness of regular printer paper.)

Nothing available anywhere is 110 lb anymore, it seems - read the Amazon reviews for proof.


-  You can buy them from Chris above - I'm not a relation or anything, and don't care except kudos to him for offering a fix.  Would be reasonably priced if we were not in different countries.  Or:

-  You can go to a Staples Copy & Print Centre, buy 250 sheets of 110 lb. card stock for $20, and have them cut it any size you want for $6.  It'll take a couple of days, but it is machine cut with a laser and should look perfect.  Plus, you can get any size you like!

[Update:  OK, Staples lied.  It was $15 for the cutting, plus tax, or about $17 total. So they're expensive cards, but still possible.]

Either way, you can do whatever you want after.  Punch 'em, smurf 'em (yes, real thing), throw them in your printer and print 'em up, whatever.

I intend to create a little desk reference using these, some cut-down Levenger Circa covers and some of the Circa disks for binding.  I could not find what I wanted in a resortable notebook (of course), and then I found I couldn't even create an index card notebook (of course!).

Until I figured out how to make the cards, that is. Which leaves me feeling a bit like those people who make everything "from scratch".  Next I'll be reduced to cutting my own trees in order to make 110 lb cardstock in the first damn place because that'll be the next thing to go.

Tip:  You can cut standard Levenger notebook covers to size using a regular rotary paper cutter - as long as it is sharp.  Just don't press too hard and do multiple passes until it cuts through.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wall-mounting Caseta Pico remotes without any damage

So I purchased a wall-mount kit for a Caseta remote control, to see how it works.  It was almost what I expected.

The wall mount itself is just a little clear bracket.  The Pico snaps in.

It did not come with the Claro plate adapter (I thought it would).  It turns out the plate adapter comes with the Claro wall plate itself.  Which makes sense once you realize all the Claro devices would use the same adapter plate.

Of course, you don't see this in the store.  All you see is this.  So you won't realize the adapter plate is in there.

So together they make a complete mounting solution for either surface-mounting or box-mounting a Pico remote.

Lutron wants you to screw the mount into the wall.  I prefer to use Command strips.  Fortunately there are two handy areas to put Command strips that won't push the mount off of the wall:

Cover up with the adapter plate and you won't even see them.

It does take quite a bit of doing to remove the wall plate from the bracket, so I guess there is a risk I might tear the strips off the wall.  I'll just have to be careful, and/or figure out how to reduce the retention force of the Claro plate on the adapter plate.

Lest anyone thinks I'm too picky, I mounted the Anywhere Switch with Command strips years ago.  Good thing too - now I can get rid of it easily without worrying about leftover holes.

Also know that the dimmer kit itself has a Claro plate and adapter in it.  If you don't plan to use these on the switch itself, you can scavenge them to use with the remote wall-mount kit.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Replacing a Leviton 6696 Anywhere Switch kit with an equivalent unit compatible with dimmable LED bulbs

LED bulbs have finally got to the point where it is worth replacing 60W candelabra bulbs in our "main" entryway fixture with LEDs.  The issue was always brightness and - with CFLs - the turn-on time.  Home Depot has a decent price on Philips 60W equivalent candelabra bulbs, which do provide equivalent brightness.

Of course, on install, I found our Leviton "Anywhere Switch" kit (model 6696) did not work with these bulbs.  The switch refused to turn fully off, allowing enough current for 3 of the 15 bulbs to remain dimly lit.  This is a common issue but it didn't exactly make me happy, because it is time for a switch replacement.  As I keep bitching to my wife, it's never easy, and there is ALWAYS SOMETHING.

This does make me wonder if this switch has been leaking electricity 24/7 in my home for the past ten years.  Hope not.

Finding a replacement is not easy.  Home automation "solutions" have utterly exploded and everyone wants to sell you a kit that does everything for everything, including automation, wireless support, PC control, remote / offsite control, etc.etc.etc.  Competition is great but sifting the choices takes waaaay to much time (bloody hell).

Obviously many people who want to replace a point-to-point switch want a point-to-point solution.  You probably also want a wall-mounted wireless switch that mimics the appearance of a regular switch, rather like the original Leviton kit did.

Oddly, not all systems actually support these features.  Some seemingly require you to 'buy in' to their ecosystem, starting with some kind of hub unit that provides for control via PC or smartphone apps.  This may or may not be your priority when just trying to replace a point-to-point switch.

Stuff to know: 

-  In the lexicon, the switch that goes in your existing wall box and hooks up to the fixture wiring is the "receiver".  The battery-operated switch that you stick on a wall, without any wiring, is a "transmitter".

-  Many wireless receivers require a neutral wire to be present in your wall box.  If you do not know, it is safer to get a version that does not require a neutral wire to operate. (The Leviton 6696 wired switch does not require a neutral, so having one in place does not guarantee that a neutral is present in the box.  You have to open it up to look.)

-  Nobody really guarantees their "LED-compatible" system will actually work with all LED bulbs - there is always a risk things will not work right.  Keep this in mind when ordering and ensure you have a cost-effective way to return items that do not work.

Options I found included:

Syklink Home:  available at Amazon and Home Depot.  This system is fairly simple and does support point-to-point control without needing any kind of wireless controller or hub.

Although arguably the least expensive, I did not choose this system because:
  -  the compatibility with LEDs was slightly uncertain, and
-  the as-supplied wall switch looks rather poor, and really requires a "snap-in remote" (sold separately) to make it look properly finished, and
-  the appearance of the switch with the snap-in remote could be confusing for wife and kids.

Skylink offers options like a plug-in controller for plug-in lamps, which was nice, but not enough to sell me on this system.  However, if you have the time and inclination, it may be a good option.

INSTEON SwitchLinc:  This is a pretty and appropriately-priced switch system that seems to have a lot of features.  But I did not investigate this much after I found it requires a neutral wire to install.  One Amazon reviewer also had poor operation with Costco LED lamps.

Leviton WSS10:  This is a rather nifty system where the transmitter units actually need no batteries.  This seems paradoxical, and therefore confusing, and it took me a while to figure what the hell it was all about.

What happens is that wall switch transmitter actually uses the energy created by pressing the switch itself.  I have my doubts that this can be reliable, but Leviton claims it works.  So, no batteries in the stick-on transmitter switch.

There is also a motion sensor option, which Leviton seems to think is more important than the remote switch option because it is mentioned more often and more prominently.  It is also "batteryless", in the sense that it is solar-powered.  Which is again hard-to-find information, which makes the system even more initially confusing.

The Leviton was the first option I found but I did not buy it because it seemed costly.  I was also not able to immediately find it at retail stores.  As I wanted a fast solution that I could return if it did not work, this was not ideal.

GE Z-Wave:  Requires a neutral wire, so I did not look further.

Lutron Maestro:  This system looks good but does not appear to offer any wireless options - everything must be wired.  Not suitable for what I'm trying to do.  But the Maestro system seems to be big on occupancy/motion/light sensors and other items not available for Caseta.

Lutron RadioRA:  This system is hardcore and seems to be for enthusiasts/professionals who actually like spending time on home automation, get paid for it, or both.  I did not seriously look at it.

Lutron Caseta:  This was the system I initially went for.  I admit this was a little bit because I have had good luck with Lutron in the past, but it was mostly because this switch kit was expressly intended for use with dimmable LEDs, was priced almost the same as the Skylink, and looked better in appearance.

It does support point-to-point operation without the need for the "Smart Hub" thingy, though obviously you can add the Hub later.  I have no intention of doing so but you never know.

Transmitter/receiver kits are available at Best Buy (!) and Home Depot.  Which I liked since I wanted one NOW and I wanted to be able to return it if it failed to work right.  You can buy at Amazon but the prices were within pennies when this was written so there was little point waiting for shipping.

This system also has a relatively decent-looking plug-in dimmer meant for lamp control.  Which was useful for me since I had a remote-controlled lamp already, but the system was always a bit flaky.  Having a new option was nice.

The Caseta system works with small hand-held remotes that serve as both remote controls and faux "wall switches".  For our purposes we probably want them wall-mounted like the old Leviton remote switch was.

The mounting of these remotes as wall switches is not obvious, but it supposedly can be done.  The thing is to realize the Caseta "wallplate bracket" - model PICO-WBX-ADAPT - supports mounting a remote control either inside an existing wall box or surface-mounted directly on a wall.  This is clear in the Amazon description of the kit, but not in the Lutron description.

This means this "wallplate bracket" is really a mounting kit for the remote.  You can use it to mount the switch either in the wall or on the wall, as you see fit. This is not at all clear on an initial look-see.

Surface-mounting this kit will seem confusing to those used to the Anywhere Switch because you will be left wondering where the extra-deep cosmetic cover plate is.  The trick is to realize that while the Anywhere Switch kit is thick and therefore comes with an extra-deep cover plate, the Caseta remote is really, really thin.  Meaning a standard Claro wall plate - also available at Home Depot - will fit right over the Caseta bracket.

(Critics will note the wall-mount kits are like $11 each, and the Claro plate is $5.50, making the wall-mount solution ruinously expensive for such simple and cheap parts.  I don't like it either but those are the options - you can pony up, or just stick the remote to the wall with the tape provided with the remote or a 3M Command strip, up to you.  Nobody is making you wall-mount these devices.)

Another nice touch was that the Caseta remotes have a visor clip option available for your car.  Which means I can install a kit in my garage and be able to control my garage lights from the car.  This is hardly a necessity, since we've lived here 10 years without having this feature, but it's another nice-to-have option.  (Again, the clips are expensive, you could just substitute another Command strip if you wanted to.)

([Update]:  To get remote control of the conventional fluorescent bulbs in my garage from two cars will cost about $150 - mostly for the non-dimmable, conventional-load PD-5WS switch required.  That's far too much for what it is, so I've decided not to pursue this option.)

Caseta also includes thermostat integration with Honeywell and Nest.  Which might be nice in the future.  I see no point in having a "smart" thermostat that offers little advantage over a "regular" programmable thermostat, but maybe one day.

Things I wasn't sure about

-  If you have non-dimmable CFL or conventional fluorescent lighting - say, 2' or 4' fluorescent tubes in garage or "shop" lights - you may need a different switch.  This is because in the Lutron lexicon, a DIMMER is NOT the same thing as a SWITCH.

Specifically, the DIMMERS are rated for LED, CFL, incandescent and halogen bulbs, but NOT 'regular' non-dimmable bulbs of any type.  So if you have non-dimmable bulbs, you should not be using a DIMMER.

The SWITCHES are rated for conventional non-dimming loads, such as non-dimming LED, incandescent, halogen, MVL, ELV, non-dimmable fluorescent, and fans.  So you'll need a SWITCH for these applications.  Since lots of garages and sheds will have old tube bulbs or whatever, you may need a SWITCH for these.

Available switch models include the PD-5WS-DV (5A, no neutral) and PD-ANS (6A, need neutral).  Minimum and maximum loads are also different: here's a comparison.

Now, maybe a dimmer will work on some non-dimmable loads.  But you'd have to try it out to see, and you might risk damaging something. 

Problems with the switch models are as follows:

  -  The switch models are much rarer than the dimmer models, and not generally available at retail.  You can get them at Amazon and other places.

  -  The switch units are more costly than the dimmer units.  Like, WAY more costly.  Like, ridiculously costly.

  -  Some of the switch units need a neutral wire.  I believe the 6A model needs a dimmer, but the 5A model does not.  Better double-check before buying.

  -  The switch units use a different Pico remote, which is never supplied.  I don't know if they work with the dimmer Picos or not. 

-  They never come with a wall plate.  (They might also lack a wallplate adapter.)

  -  Switch units (sometimes) come with a dummy load to allow them to work properly with low-wattage loads.  Some do and some don't, and some work well with low-wattage LED loads and some don't, even with the dummy load installed.  So you might find the dreaded won't-turn-off syndrome affects these switch units with LED lighting, even though it's not supposed to.

The LUT-MLC dummy load is not available as a separate part, so if you need one and don't have it, you are SOL.

The good news is that the switch units do work with the Pico remotes and Smart Bridge just like the dimmers do.  So you can get a Caseta switch that supports a 'regular' non-dimmable lighting solution, for those cases where you can't use a dimmer.

[Update]:  I never bought any switches since they are ferociously expensive for what they are.  They should be $10 less than the dimmers and come with the remote and wall plate, not twice as expensive without remote and wall plate!

-  One thing that worried me was the battery life on the remote.  Lutron claims ten years on a CR2032 cell.  Even if that is exaggerated, it still seems decent to me. 

-  Another thing that puzzled me is the remote control has a "favorite scene" button, while the wall-mounted receiver switch does not.  This is a very odd omission and leaves off a feature I would rather like to have.  I can obviously live without it but this seems very, very strange to me.

(There is an ELV switch available that corrects this - the PD-5NE - but it requires a neutral wire.  Plus, it does not actually seem to be stocked or sold hardly anywhere in North America, and LED compatibility with my bulbs is unclear  It didn't initially seem worth taking a $100 risk when I can work around it with the ordinary dimmer buttons of the regular Caseta switch.)

-  I would like a discrete / independent dusk-dawn capability for my outdoor lights.  I have a timer switch that is supposed to correct for time of year, latitude, etc., but I notice it is turning off and on at the wrong times.  I also suspect it will suffer from won't-turn-off syndrome once I install new LED floodlights.

The Caseta system has no photocell or discrete timer switches, and so does not support this directly.  Sunrise/sunset is, however, supported by the Smart Brdige/app system, so maybe I'll have to pony up for the Bridge after all.  It would be nice to have a unit that didn't need the Bridge for this, but none exists at this time.

[Update]:  This functionality would cost too much in Caseta.  I recommend the Intermatic ST01, which provides full astro/DST sunrise/sunset functionality at about one-third the cost of an equivalent Caseta.  (1/2 the cost if you already own a Smart Bridge, which I don't.)

-  On reflection (ha!) I rather like the idea of an ambient lighting sensor like the Powr Savr Daylight Sensor for the Maestro system - it auto-adjusts room lighting according to the total ambient (including sunlight).  This was not an initial requirement but once I ran across it, it seems like a nice idea.

The daylight sensor seems to work with Caseta but only if the Caseta switches are NOT being used with a Smart Bridge.  But this is a frill feature so I don't care much.  Maybe I will install a Maestro dimmer specifically in those rooms that can take advantage of this, or maybe use a Staples Connect Hub or other functionality, or simply not pair that switch with the Bridge.

I suppose the Daylight Sensor could even work as a sort-of photocell system if one did not want the Bridge.  Unfortunately, it costs about $100, may require another Caseta dimmer, and is not readily available in Canada, so I won't be experimenting with it anytime soon - it would probably not pay for itself for a decade or more.  The Bridge itself costs about $100 and obviously does dusk/dawn, as well as a lot more, meaning that would be a better investment.

-  A truly brilliant solution would be to let me buy smart shades for our enormous south-facing window.  They would have to be triggered by both sunlight, exterior temperature AND house temperature.  For example, if it is full sun, hot outside and too cold in the house, open the shades; if sunny, hot outside and too hot, close them.

Caseta does support Serena wireless shades, but won't do this sort of complex control.  This is hardly a critique of the Caseta system, though, since no system I know of will do this to the complexity I want.

Anyway, this is all theoretical.  I still have to run to HD and get a Caseta PD-6WCL dimmer kit plus a remote wall-mount kit, and try them all out.  The pricing works out such that no matter what I do, I end up buying a Caseta dimmer/remote kit anyway, so it's a good way to get started.  I'll try and update if they work with my intended Philips 60W / 7W "Warm Glow" dimmable candelabra LED bulbs, or if they don't.

[Update]:  On inspection I do, in fact, have a neutral wire in the wall box of interest.  Which is good for me since it means I can use any of the offerings that need a neutral wire.  But I'm still sticking with Caseta for now since I've done the homework on it and it seems to fit my needs.

[Update]:  I tested the Caseta dimmer and it does work with a single Philips 7W candleabra bulb.  It turns on and off and dims just about as you'd expect.  The low and high dimmer trim levels might do with a tweak but that is not important - what's important is that it SHUTS OFF!!  (And with only a single, 7W, "unsupported" bulb, too.)

[Update]:  The dimmer is in place and works very well with 15 7W/60W Philips "Warm Glow" candelabra bulbs.  Dimming at the very low end is a touch nonlinear, but I have not bothered to adjust the switch yet so that is probably not its fault.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Moving from Virtualdub to avidemux for MP4 editing

AVI files are pretty passe by now, but I'm certain there are people out there (like me) who have gotten used to Virtualdub.

Sadly, Virtualdub will load most anything (with the appropriate plugin) but cannot save much of anything.  So, unless you really like everything in AVI format, you'll need a new editor.

The question is: which one?

If you like Virtualdub for it's good keyboard support, easy clipping against keyframes, processing speed, ability to clip without transcoding, or anything else, you are probably going to want an editor that works like that for .mp4 files.

Fortunately, I only had to look around for a bit. 

-  I looked for Windows Live Movie Maker, but it only comes bundled with a bunch of other stuff, and I did not like that.  I didn't even bother trying to install it.

-  I tried Filmora Video Editor.  Looks like a good editor for "real" video editing, where you merge multiple video streams and so forth.  But the interface and output options are nothing like Virtualdub, and it seems too complex for simple clipping.  I tried to clip a file and gave up in short order.

My third try, avidemux, seems to do the job.  It has an interface and behavior similar to Virtualdub, seems fast, opens everything (avi, mkv, mp4, etc) and can save without transcoding.  It will clip on and off keyframes, warns you when you're cutting off a keyframe, and handles off-keyframe cuts fairly gracefully.

(I guess I should have tried avidemux before.  I admit the name put me off a bit.  But then again, what kind of name is "Virtualdub" anyway?)

I have not tried avidemux for items like volume correction, video conversion or other things.  But so far it's looking like a nice & fast editor for simple tasks.

For reference, here's a handy cross-reference guide of the basic controls for avidemux that you'll probably want to know/use.

Virtualdub -> avidemux
Next frame:  Right arrow -> Right arrow
Previous frame:  Left arrow -> Left arrow
Next keyframe:  Ctrl-Right arrow ->  Up
Previous keyframe:  Ctrl-Left arrow ->  Down
Start:  Home ->  Home
End:  End ->  End

Mark beginning:  [  ->  Ctrl-Page up
Mark end:  ] ->  Ctrl-Page down
Save:  F7  ->  Ctrl-S

Not guaranteeing I got all of those correct for Virtualdub, but they should all be correct  for avidemux.  Happy clipping!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lexmark CS510 series won't draw / pull paper from alternative paper tray

Problem:  CS510 series won't pull paper from any available tray automatically.  Instead, it says something like "Load Tray 1 Plain A4", even though Tray 2 has paper in it.  Or, maybe, vice versa.

Related:  You've loaded the all trays / the only tray with paper, but the printer says you need to load it again, saying something like "Load Tray 1 Plain A4" or similar.

Solution:  The CS510 doesn't auto-detect the loaded paper size(s) from the trays directly.  Instead, you have to go to Settings/Paper Menu in the printer web server to set the paper sizes. 

It will then "know" that one or more trays are holding the correct paper size for your print job.  It will then stop complaining that you need to load a particular tray with a particular size.

This will also fix cases where you've loaded letter and print to letter, but the printer "thinks" the tray holds A4, or similar mix-ups.

This will obviously not work if a multi-tray printer is loaded with different paper sizes for different jobs.  You can't expect, nor likely want, the printer to print letter size when the only available paper is legal size (or vice versa).

This shouldn't be an issue with a printer that's been in use because it presumably has been set up before, and will therefore "know" what paper has been loaded.  But a new printer will assume all the trays are European A4 size.  Which is just blinding if you are in Europe (or the UK/Switzerland/Norway/etc.) but not so great if you are over the pond.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Battery life of the 1byone Driveway Alert Sensor system

This information would be good to know for anyone considering this system, but does not seem to be available.

I measured two sensor samples as follows:

-  Standby (active):  25 uA max
-  Detect:  16.2 mA max for about 2 seconds

It's not actually 16 mA for the full 2 seconds, but that's close enough.  Especially since the 2 seconds might be anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds - I did not bother to measure more accurately than that.

The sensors run on AAA cells, which I personally hate because of their relatively low capacity.  But, running the numbers, the effective capacity of AAAs should run these sensors for a very long time.

-  Due to self-discharge and temperature effects, cells will only deliver 75% of their rated capacity.

-  I estimated alarm consumption at 16 mA for 4 seconds.  This is twice as conservative as the ~2 seconds I estimated from observing the unit current.

These work out as follows:

Using 1000 mAh alkaline AAAs @ 75% of rated capacity:
- 1,000 detects:  24 months @ 1 detect/day
- 1,500 detects:  21 months @ 2 detects/day
- 2,000 detects:  18 months @ 3 detects/day
- 2,500 detects:  13 months @ 6 detects/day
- 3,000 detects:  9 months @ 10 detects/day
- 3,500 detects:  5 months @ 19 detects/day
- 4,000 detects:  1.7 months @ 75 detects/day

I would hope the 75% derating is conservative, but possibly not.  Newer alkalines do have a better shelf life than older types, but they are not known to be especially shelf-stable or stable under low current loads.  Freezing temperatures may also affect them.

Reviewers don't give any numbers on how long the sensors last, but I have the impression that 3-6 months may be typical.  Which, given how conservative the above numbers are, would theoretically put these people in the range of 20+ detects per day.  Given that the sensors do tend to false under certain circumstances, this doesn't seem at all unlikely.  Better positioning and setup might greatly extend battery life.

From this, and assuming 15 detects/day at a more realistic 2.5 seconds/detect, alternative cells will give approximately the following lifespan (all derated by 75%):
-  1000 mAh AAA cells: 10 months
-  3000 mAh AA cells: 2.5 years
-  8000 mAh C cells: 6.8 years
-  15000 mAh D cells: 12 years

It is pretty clear that any way you cut it, larger (but still cheap) alkaline cells will dramatically increase the performance of the sensors.  Which is what you would expect, except that the expected time for puny AAAs is already so large, C and D cell run times go through the roof.

You would obviously have to hack these units to attach to these larger cells, but this is not hard.  See the interior of the sensor, where there is ample room to put additional wiring and a jack:

The main problems would be how to house and mount the larger battery pack so it's accessible, doesn't look bad, and is not subject to weathering, damage or vandalism.

I initially purchased lithium AAAs in an effort to get a better battery life - especially in the winter months - but they are very expensive.  Adapting to AA, C or D would have probably been less costly, and will still be less costly in the long run.  I'd also rather change the cells at my leisure in the summer rather than in the dead of winter.

With these numbers you could probably easily use NiMH cells, if you don't mind changing the batteries a bit more often.  At about 15-20 detects/day you should get about 4-5 months (or so) out of them, which isn't bad at all given that they can be used over and over again.  NiMH AAAs would give maybe 6-8 months, while NiMH C and D will be quite a bit longer.

Per the calculations, at 20 detects/day, Eneloop AAAs @ 800 mAh will last about 6 months, while AAs @ 2,000 mAh will last about 15 months.  Eneloops are pretty stable with low self-discharge, so the 75% derating should be fairly representative over the expected time spans.

Even assuming it is off, or you get more detects than expected, 9-12 months of life from a single set of rechargeable AAs is not bad at all.  And they are a lot less chunky than C or D-size cells.

These numbers also mean that if you have a high-traffic area, battery life drops precipitously.  For example at 75 detects/day, you can expect to get six weeks, and around 100/day you'll get about 40 days from alkaline AAAs.

If the sensor is always going off, expect to change cells very, very often, or adapt the sensors to use an AC adapter instead.  At 16 mA peak nearly any 4.0V-5.0V adapter will do the job.

[Update 2017-06-26]: Lithium AAs lasted the whole winter and beyond, Sept to July without issues.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Experiences with DealExtreme and Banggood return policies

Just wanted to relate a recent experience between DealExtreme and Banggood, in case it is useful to anyone.

I have ordered several products from both vendors.  As a rule, the products are as described and well made.  Or, at least, a quality equal to or higher than what you would expect from the selling price.  There have been exceptions but that's been the general experience.

(Yes, shipping takes a long time.  That's a given.  I've had 1 or maybe 2 orders lost or show up extremely late.  It's just what happens.)

Most of the items have been USB cables, battery packs and such.  As I've gotten more comfortable with BG, I've been ordering more and more expensive items.

Most of the time these items work fine.  Sometimes they don't.  But - to make a long story short - BG has always refunded or replaced the defective items.  That's a new replacement item or a 100% refund, after I've shown them a video (or photos) of the problematic item.

This includes expensive items such as RC toys, where they sent a replacement transmitter when I got a defective one.  They refunded some RC car wheels when I got front wheels instead of back wheels.  And it also includes refunds for non-performing items like battery chargers.

This has recently extended up to tablets, which are roughly $100 a pop for inexpensive models.  (Kids break them so I buy cheap ones.)  One tablet got lost in the mail and they refunded it without any complaints once the tracking number stayed stuck for 60 days.

Based on this, I have 100% confidence in BG.  I do not worry at all buying from them since I know that if they send a defective item I will not lose any money on it. 

Up until recently, BG had better pricing than DX, but that has been changing.  Plus DX has a few items BG does not.  So, based on my favorable past experience I ordered a couple of tablets from DX.

On arrival, one was DOA with a non-functional screen.  It happens.  I did the customary video of the issue and opened a customer service ticket.  What I got back was a little disappointing.

Here are the options they presented:

-  Get the tablet repaired and negotiate a (partial?) rebate of the repair cost
-  Get an $8 credit
-  Return the item (shipping cost: $20) for an exchange

Obviously not nearly as supportive as BG.  This is typical of the risks that people do not want to take on when purchasing expensive items from overseas vendors.

This is my first experience with DX return policies, and I can't say I'm too impressed.  In previous days I might have just shrugged and chalked it up to experience, but BG is setting a much higher bar for customer service.

From this, I would have to recommend Banggood over DealExtreme.  If you do have issues - and they do happen, even to the best vendors - BG should cover you.  DX will not.

It is true that - depending on the item - BG might be a little bit more expensive than DX.  And they don't stock identical products all the time. 

And this is just my experience, YMMV.  I recently read a tablet review on BG where, somehow, their return policy changed to pretty much match DX.  I do not know why they would handle different customers differently, but it seems that they might.  So be certain to always protect yourself with a credit card or other means of payment that allows you to dispute the payment should things go badly.

In any event, I know where I'm buying my expensive toys in the future.

(Note:  I shouldn't even have to say this, but in this day and age of paid reviews I guess I have to.  NOBODY PAID ME to write this, and I have NO affiliation with either DealExtreme or Banggood except being a customer.  It's my money on the line here, not theirs.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Things you can do to provide web filtering (parental controls) on Android

This article concerns how to keep little ones from stumbling into inappropriate content on the net via an Android device.  If this isn't what you need, you can stop reading now.

Unfortunately, Android has no "master switch" that enables filtering.  But there are some things you can do.

I will also say that no filtering is ever perfect.

1.  Youtube:  Enable "Restricted mode".

How:  On the individual device, go to  Go to the bottom where it says "Restricted mode: Off".  Click and enable Restricted Mode.

Limits:  Only filters Youtube content.

Notes:  This seems to work by browser, so you have to do this on the device of interest.  Going to Youtube on a PC when you want to restrict a tablet doesn't work.

2.  Google Play:  In the Play app, go to Settings/Parental controls.  You can set a PIN to prevent kiddies from setting it back.

Limits:  Only filters Play app content.  Play access via browser is unaffected.

3.  Parental control app.  Several are available on the Play Store.

Limits:  None seem to be a clear winner.  Most require subscriptions.

4.  Use OpenDNS.  Methods vary.  Basic filtering is free.

Limits:  Doesn't work with some VPN services.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Transmission will not shift into reverse on Tremec T-56 transmission

Problem: Car suddenly and inexplicably won't shift into reverse.

The usual tricks do not work, including:
  • Shifting to first gear, then reverse
  • Shifting to fourth gear, then reverse
  • Rolling a bit forward
  • Letting car idle, stationary, with clutch out, before trying for reverse
  • Letting the clutch out a bit with the brakes on (to try and align transmission gears without moving forward)
  • Pumping clutch
  • Removing the floor mat to get an extra bit of clutch travel
  • Forcing the gear
  • Shifting into reverse with the engine is not running
If you have a reverse lockout solenoid, it may feel very much like the solenoid is preventing you from shifting.   This will seem to be "confirmed" on those few occasions when you can shift into reverse when the car is not running by overcoming the spring pressure of the solenoid/shifter mechanism, but this trick will (probably) not work consistently.

Unfortunately, this can be caused by a myriad of problems, ranging from trivial to expensive.  These include:
  • Low clutch fluid (refill clutch fluid)
  • Air in clutch lines (bleed clutch fluid)
  • Worn/low transmission fluid (change)
  • Broken reverse lockout solenoid (replace)
  • Worn master cylinder (replace)
  • Worn slave cylinder (replace)
  • Worn reverse synchro (replace)
  • Worn motor mounts (replace)
  • Worn shifter bushings (replace)
  • Worn clutch / flywheel (replace)
You will probably be convinced that you need a new reverse lockout solenoid because yours feels like it is stuck, and/or worried your clutch is about toast.

However, before you despair and resign yourself to another dealership visit for a new reverse solenoid, clutch or transmission service, check that tiny little hydraulic clutch reservoir under the hood.  In my case the reservoir was dry, meaning the clutch fluid was a touch low.  Topping up with less than 100 ml of DOT-4 brake fluid seems to have fixed the issue. 

Note that any DOT-4 will do.  If you add quite a bit, pump the clutch slowly 10-15 times after topping up.

A dry reservoir is a sign of a leak.  If you haven't had any shifting problems before, the leak may be new.  Keep an eye on it and repair as necesary.

Note: This obviously assumes you haven't done something dumb like accidentally install a CAGS eliminator on your reverse solenoid by mistake.  This can happen if you purchased the wrong CAGS for your vehicle.  This should be obvious, however, since the reverse gear will immediately stop behaving once the incorrect plug is installed, and come right back once it is removed. 

I'm not going to say which car I personally have, but the Tremec was used on several, including:

  • 1997-2007 Corvette
  • 2005-2007 Corvette Z51
  • 2001-2004 Corvette Z06
  • 1993-2002 Camaro
  • 2004-2006 Ram SRT-10
  • 1992-2007 Viper
  • 2000 Cobra R
  • 2003-2004 Cobra
  • 2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V
 Happy reversing!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Installing the Oxford Anchor 14

So install was a pain.  Drilling concrete is never easy.

Besides a pencil/Sharpie, earplugs, a level (if wall mounted), pliers, gloves, glasses, etc, you will probably need to acquire:

-  A decent 1/2" hammer drill.  A rotary hammer is better, but expensive.  Consider renting one, it may make life easier.

-  Masonry bits in various sizes from 1/8" through 3/4". 

Why so many bits?  Several reasons:

-  You need the smaller sizes because nobody in their right mind will try to drill a 3/4" hole in concrete straight off.  Start with a very small pilot hole and work up slowly.

-  Masonry bits can wear out quickly.  You may need two or three of the smaller sizes to get four holes.

-  The bracket fasteners are 16mm.  They will not quite fit into a 5/8" hole, and DO NOT try and tap them in or they will deform and/or come apart.  They will fit and tighten in a 3/4" hole if you cannot find the requisite 16mm bit.

-  Many of the "all-in-one" drilling/driving sets have a few masonry bits.  But they probably go up only to 3/8".  Chances are you'll need to buy one or two of the 1/2", 5/8" and 3/4" sizes, respectively.  (I ended up going through a few small bits but only needed one 1/2", one 5/8" and one 3/4". for ten holes.)

-  A good masonry bit will bite and drill relatively easily.  If it is not biting, it is probably worn out.  Or maybe you've hit rock or rebar.

-  The bit bits are a little expensive at $10-$15 each.  I found them cheapest at Home Depot.

More details:

-  The commenters are right.  Drill ONE hole first.  Mount the bracket up, then mark & drill hole #2.  Repeat until you get all four.  Trying to mark and drill four at once is a recipe for at least one to be off-center.

-  If you're having trouble getting your initial hole on center, you can use a "regular" titanium or high-speed bit to get a dimple to center the masonry bit.

-  If you end up with bits that melt, flatten, pancake or mushroom - i.e. an  un-drillable hole - chances are you hit some rebar.  In which case you can spend $100 on a carbide rebar cutting bit, or move to a new location.  After melting nine bits (!) I eventually chose the latter, which is why I had ten holes and not eight.

-  If you miss or have to shift, you will have some leftover holes.  Fill these in with weatherproof grey silicone or similar.

-  ALWAYS completely thread the provided fasteners to ensure they thread cleanly.  I had two that were difficult to thread, and they could have caused problems if I'd inserted the anchors without clearing them.

-  I tightened mine with a torque wrench, but only because I had an inch-pound wrench lying about that I had inherited but never used.  You will need the right adapters, bits etc. to let you put a 6mm hex key on it.  I used the 3/8" torque wrench, a 3/8"-to-1/4" adapter and a deep 6mm 1/4" drive socket.  To make the 6mm hex bit I cut the long leg off of the L-shaped hex key that came with the bracket.

-  I have no idea how you're meant to hammer the ball bearings in to the bolt heads.  You'll need a punch, I guess?  I didn't try.  Will be easy if floor-mounted, but IMHO rather unnecessary.

-  Hammering the cover plugs into the bracket is hard.  Expect to miss and mark up your nice new bracket.  (Note mine were wall-mounted - floor-mounted might be easier to keep on target.  Maybe use a rod or something between the cap and hammer to avoid hitting the bracket itself.)

-  If you have difficulty removing a fastener and end up leaving parts inside the hole, you can fish them out with a magnet.  They are steel and not aluminum.

I had to make a cardboard & cloth pad to let me lean against the drill with my body, without crushing my hands or squashing myself too badly.  It takes a LOT of force to get the bit moving sometimes and I simply cannot deliver that with my arms alone.  Knee pads or a mat are also highly recommended.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

McAfee "Navigation to the webpage was cancelled" upon uninstall attempt

You know, it is no wonder people have such an ambivalent perspective of AV companies. 

On the one hand, they all provide free services to the benefit of everyone.  Every AV-protected PC is one fewer target.

On the other hand, they seem like pricks when they:

(a) accidentally bork thousands of PCs - which, to be fair - are highly-publicized but extremely rare occurrances, or

(b)  Seem to intentionally make it damn-near-impossible for the average Jane to remove their unwanted AV product - which often comes pre-installed - from their own PC that they paid good money for. 

Now, we all know they need to make money like everyone else, and AV is not an easy business. But try and lose more gracefully, people!

This is so pervasive that McAfee and others have resorted to creating "removal tools" specifically designed to uninstall their software.  Which makes them just about the ONLY companies in the world who cannot figure out how to accomplish this, without error, using the built-in Windows un/install tools that have been around since - well, Windows itself.

If you do get a mysterious, uninformative and seemingly unresolvable error - like, say "Navigation to the webpage was  cancelled" while trying to uninstall McAfee, it just raises more questions than answers.  It says you can "Refresh the webpage", but you seemingly can't - are you doing something wrong?  Did it uninstall or not?  Is it still working or not?  How do you check?  How can you know?

Anyway, the McAfee Removal Tool seems to take care of the issue by completely removing McAfee AV.  Just be sure you download it from a McAfee site, and not some sketchy file-sharing site that might have a Trojan horse nasty masquerading as the legitimate removal tool.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Example capacity of Polar Bear / AO Coolers 24-pack soft cooler

At the beer store today, I see this:

Hey, why not?

OK, so this is a pretty lousy "cooler", I admit.  But it has two great redeeming features:

1.  It's free.

2.  It's just about the same interior size as a "proper" 24-pack soft cooler.  Such as, the Polar Bear 24-pack soft cooler I've been eying as a means to take lunch to the park.

I was uncertain if the 24-pack was too small, too large, or just right for this.  This cheapie surrogate lets me try it out without spending $75 for the privilege.

Here's a sort-of pack for a hot dog / hamburger lunch for 4.  It's rough but it's just stuff I had lying about that I would probably take.  I would put the hot dogs or patties in a separate "hot box" cooler so they don't go in here.

Not-so-full house (yet)

The usual suspects

Obviously this is missing two major items: buns and ice.  However:

-  Taking out the granola bars leaves room for buns in a Tupperware container
-  I've fit full-size bottles and jars of condiments in there without difficulty, but I could obviously take smaller containers
-  Also fit three water bottles and two 1 liter boxes of juice, which could be pre-frozen to help things stay cool
-  There is still room for ice packs or loose ice

From this, I'm pretty sure the Polar Bear 24-pack is about right for my needs.  The Polar Bear or AO would obviously be a little bit different, but only an inch or so either way.

I sure know I don't want the 48-pack - just look at that beastie:

The car camping "fridge"
How would you even lift that?  No thank you!

I will note the Molson came with an entire 24-pack of beer inside of it - that was kind of the schtick in the store.  So it's obviously a 24-pack cooler!  (It did not have room for any ice or anything, making it a 24-pack in name only, but this is very typical for coolers.)  It is also obviously very thin material and of virtually no use as a cooler, but will do fine for plates, cups and stuff.

For comparison, here's the Molson "cooler" and case in my new Macwagon.  (It's just for size, I don't drink the stuff.)

Wagon ho

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Abus 92/80 lock and Oxford Anchor 14 chain capacities

One of the more difficult items to figure out from measurements alone is just how much chain a lock or anchor can accommodate. 

As some examples might shed some light, here are some pictures of the Oxford Anchor 14 and the Abus 92/80.

Our guests for the show

Note that this is not a review, as such.  I have absolutely no interest in debating the merits of these devices, and I don't even want to mention the word "p*ck*ig" for fear of getting this blog mixed up with all of those videos of yahoos people who want to show off their mad skillz hard-earned skills.  I just want to show what these devices physically can and cannot do.

Oxford Anchor 14

As previously mentioned, the Oxford Anchor 14 is - well, enormous.  Really. 

From the photos and measurements available on the 'net, I figured it was likely to accommodate a single loop of 7/16" security chain.  It turns out this was vastly underestimated.

In my defense, my primary reference was this photo from Chain Reaction Cycles:
Just does it

This certainly seems to show that it can hold one, or maybe two, loops of chain.  Given the anchor fits "all Oxford security chains", their largest is 1/2", and marketing people love to show off, it sure looks like a single loop of 1/2" chain might be the maximum capacity.

In reality, it can hold a ton more.  Here's the anchor compared to a length of 3/8" Grade 70 transport chain:

Big, meet bigger

And here it is holding no less than FOUR loops of that same chain - with room to spare for more.  I'd guess 6 or 7 loops would be no issue.  With a fabric chain sleeve, maybe you'd be down to 4 or 5, but I doubt it.

Big mouth

Obviously a single Anchor 14 will do for just about any practical purpose, regardless of chain size.  So you needn't worry about the anchor fitting your chain - you only need to worry about having a space big enough to mount it.

Abus 92/80

The Abus 92/80 was another question.  It's a damn big lock, and both measurements and reviews said it would accommodate two end loops of 3/8" or 7/16" chain without difficulty.  Sure enough, that was the case.

End game
Incidentally, it did not really sink it for me until I tested it that this lock also has a minimum chain size, as the locking hasp is relatively thick.  If the links are too small, the hasp simply will not fit through them. 

I had calculated all of this while selecting my lock, so I knew it should be OK.  But it didn't really come to the fore until I tried it out.  I'd say that anything much less than 3/8" chain would not work at all.

(For reference, a standard chain link is 6x the listed size in length, and 3.6x the listed size in width. From there you can calculate the minimum opening sizes.)

Of course, chains are rarely precisely the right length.  Since securing a chain tightly can help defeat those with bolt cutters, you often want to secure it in the middle somewhere. 

What I could not tell - except by test - is if the Abus would also fit an end link plus a middle link.  It turns out it will do so without a lot of difficulty.

Tight fit

This naturally led to the question of if the Abus could even accommodate securing two middle links.  Turns out it will even do that, but only just.

Playin' both middles against the ends

Despite the above, I would not recommend trying to use two middle links in any practical situation.  You can make it work, but it just barely fits.  This makes it quite difficult to actually secure the chain in the lock, especially if access is awkward in any way.  I was able to make it work on my bench, but real life applications rarely allow such freedom of movement.

If the chain is relatively loose and the lock is right in front of you, you may be able to make it work.  For most applications, though, I'd recommend using one end link and - at most - one middle link.

I do not know if two middle links of 7/16" or 1/2" chain will be worse or better than the 3/8" shown above.  The links are a bit fatter, but also longer, so possibly it will even out?  You'd have to try it out to be sure.

Practical security IRL

And no, I'm not planning to use the Grade 70 chain for my actual security needs.  Not that there is anything wrong with that - it's a damn good chain, IMHO, and will be enough to deter most thieves.

No, the Grade 70 was just the biggest chain that was available off-the-shelf in my area, and made for an excellent (and relatively cheap) surrogate for my preferred chain.  Which was extremely costly, 4 weeks away, and non-returnable.  Hence all the testing - I'm not dropping hundreds on a combination that will not work together!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Information on the Oxford Anchor 14 bike anchor

I recently purchased 2 of these to secure items outdoors.  I was rather surprised at some things when they showed up, so I thought this info might be useful to somebody.

I purchased the Anchor 14, and not the Anchor 10, because I was worried that the 10 might not fit my security chain.  My chain is 7/16" and I intend to put a sleeve over it, if I can.  I also wanted the 4-point mounting of the Anchor 14.

(I read someplace that some consider the 10 to be superior because the baseplate resists prying attacks better.  I can't fathom how this might work, so I didn't care.)

What I didn't appreciate from the product descriptions and photos was just how BIG this thing is!  It's HUGE!  In fact, it is so big I can stick my fist right through it!  I am admittedly a small guy, but still, that is impressive.

One of the reasons is that the bracket proper is fixed to two 10mm metal standoffs, which raise the bar further off of the mounting surface.  I'm not sure I quite got that from the photos I saw on the net.

In retrospect, my concerns about fitting a single loop of 7/16" chain through the Anchor 14 were kind of laughable.  This could probably fit three loops with room to spare.  If I'd known this, I might have purchased only one and used it to secure multiple items.

(I also think it pretty likely that the Oxford 10 - which is the baby brother bracket - would also fit one loop of the biggest chain you could hope to realistically get your hands on.  Though I still haven't seen one of those, so I'm not sure.)

Here's some pictures for reference.  I've tried to include some objects that might give you a sense of scale of the thing.  Click on the photos to get original resolution.

On a typical "Shop Towel" as sold in Canada

Those big standoffs

Small arm in big bracket (bracket IS still lying on the table)

Typical 500 ml bottle goes right under it
"Standard" 355 ml pop can juuuuuuust fits

Vertical height

Horizontal width

Another view of those big feet

That 750 ml bottle won't quite fit, but it's close

DVD, not Blu-Ray (but a classic either way, nyah)

That's one big-ass anchor.

For Canadians, the cheapest place I could find these was Chain Reaction Cycles, which is out of this wee town in Northern Ireland.  I was lucky, as they were on sale when I decided to buy, so they were only about $50 $CAD each and I got free shipping over $99.  Which in itself is impressive since the brackets weigh quite a lot.  They arrived promptly and - so far - without any brokerage or other untoward fees.

I recommend you pair something like this with this security chain from Peerless, which cannot be cut even with industrial-strength bolt cutters.  You can purchase this in Canada if you contact Campbell Mack in your city; otherwise, you can try E-Rigging for cross-border shipment.

Note: I paid for all of this stuff, so if it sucked, I would definitely say so.  I don't like getting ripped off any more than the next guy, and I'm not so lucky to get $15/foot chain for free.