Anachostic

Another attempt

Dining Out and Out

I’ve lamented the decline of Pizza Hut’s “red roof” – dine-in – locations for many years.  Even when I worked there decades ago, there was always an emphasis on carry-out and delivery.  And even back then, they had the concept of “delcos” – delivery/carryout-exclusive locations.  My delivery manager was always campaigning to open one in our town, probably so he could be a general manager.  But if that had happened, what would happen to the dine-in location?  Would it be able to cover its own costs?

I’m sure having a dine-in location is much more costly than a delco.  Insurance, furniture upkeep, utilities, cleaning costs, there’s a lot more.  And it’s funny, because wait staff get paid so little, so it’s not even really a concern of labor costs.  But my introductory point is that Pizza Hut pushed take-out food over the dine-in experience for a very long time, and it seems that it has come to pass that dine-in is the great exception now.

Now, doesn’t it seem that everyone is in on this little racket?  Every restaurant now offers take out or delivery.  If not on their own, through some partner like GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, or whatever.  I just got an email from Chili’s bragging about delivery.  I get that people don’t want to cook, so they turn to restaurants.  But now it seems that people don’t even want to leave their houses in addition to not wanting to cook.  What the hell is going on here?

I read articles about this.  Let me tell you something, I often mention that I read articles on this or that in my posts, but I know that means absolutely nothing because you can find an article or two to support any position on any topic out there.  But still, that the article exists means someone is observing and thinking about this.  Yeah, so, these articles say that the casual dining experience is coming to an end (articles always promote the extreme) because of generational differences.  Boomers and millennials (ugh, this again) have different priorities for dining.  Ok, sure, but why should the concept of dining out be ending?

Let me cut to the chase here.  I hate restaurant take-out, and I would hate restaurant delivery just as much.  And my reason is simple and logical.  When you go to a restaurant and eat there, you are served your food in courses.  You get your drink and some bread, you get your soup or salad, you get your entrée , you get your dessert (if you’re really that hungry).  The meal is paced and you have an opportunity to engage in conversation over a period of time.  Or, if you’re solo like I am most all the time now, you have a chance to digest and relax between courses.

When you get takeout or delivery, all courses are available at once.  Now you have to decide what’s going to suck.  Do you want your salad to get warm (if it isn’t already from being packed with your entrée ), do you want your soup to get cool, do you want your entrée to get cool?  Which course is going to suck the worst?  Or do you want to reheat your entrée after getting through the early courses?  But that’s why you ordered out in the first place, right?  No cooking.

The few times I did order Outback for takeout was a miserable experience.  I live 15 mins from any restaurants, so there’s that chilling time.  Then, when I unpack it, I have to eat everything as fast as possible.  I bounced between the salad and the steak and the bread, trying to stuff it all in before it got even colder, and I was left with a shitty experience.

Even things like sandwiches don’t really stack up after delivery.  They settle, they soak, they cool (or warm).  It’s not the same as in-house eating.  Even fast food, as low-grade as it is initially, can get worse.

So, my fear now is that the concept of dining out is going to diminish and eventually fade away.  I guess it’s not really a fear, because I’ll certainly be dead by then, but I am worried that my options will become more limited in the future, as Pizza Hut is now.  Everything would become an “Express”.  Olive Garden Express; Longhorn Express; Red Lobster ToGo.  And these are all places that young people hate – chain restaurants – so maybe it’s inevitable for demographic reasons.

The future is so bleak.  So, so bleak.

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That Time I Could Have Died

Here’s a story from my past.  It’s the time I left my home town for a job in a new city.  I had secured an apartment and moved all my belongings there, now I was there for good and unpacking and assembling things.  I had the weekend to get as much accomplished as possible before starting my new job.

I had my cat, Mess, to keep me company.  He was a pretty chill cat and the change of environment didn’t really faze him.  He settled in quickly while I kept doing my work.  But something was really weird about the whole process.  I couldn’t tell if I was just tired from the move or just overwhelmed with it, but I was constantly wiped out.  I could work for a hour or so, but then I would have to rest.  That’s not the way I was in my 20’s.

Regardless, I pressed on, taking short breaks to rest up while I kept unpacking.  In one of the boxes, I found my CO detector.  Living up north with gas heaters, it was a fairly normal practice to have one or more of these, especially where I grew up – so many old houses.  Without thinking much about it, I plugged the detector in and kept right on going.

You can probably tell where this story is going already.  And sure enough, in probably about five minutes, the alarm started blaring.  I’d never had the detector go off before, so I was confused.  Before I yanked it out of the wall, I saw the digital display said 150, which is the parts-per-million of CO detected.  I thought the detector went bad somehow from the move (decreased mental function, right?) so I plugged it back in.  As a normally-functioning person would expect, the alarm went off again.  So I grabbed an extension cord and ran the detector outside.  The display read zero.  Well, now.

I called the apartment office and explained the situation.  They told me that was normal because I was in a corner apartment next to the parking lot and car exhaust fumes would collect there.  I pushed back and said I didn’t think these numbers were normal.  Even if that was normal, WTF?  With resignation, they said they could have the gas company come out the next day and test it.  That’s about as good as I was going to get, so I went to bed in my oxygen-deprived apartment.

The next day, the office manager came over and we waited for the gas company.  When the worker showed up and knocked on the door, he had his testing device in his hand and he was pissed – legitimately angry.  “Do you see these levels I’m getting on my reader?”  I didn’t, but I took his word for it.  He came into the apartment and tested the different rooms and declared the apartment unsafe.  The apartment manager was highly embarrassed and immediately set me up with a furnished apartment until they could resolve the issue.

It turned out that the hot water tank in the apartment above me had a leaky flue, which was sending CO into my apartment.  So, problem solved and life went on.  But I always felt terrible for Mess.  I was able to leave the apartment for meals and whatnot, but he was in that CO environment 24 hours a day.  Cats sleep most all day anyway, so how could I tell the difference?  I guess he was probably lucky to even survive that incident, but he probably lost a lot of brain cells.

I live in an all-electric environment now and have always retained a slight distrust of gas-powered devices, despite the benefits they might offer like being cheaper or more efficient.  I also have a slight paranoia about CO.  This story came to mind because I recently just got my garage back at my house, so I can park my car in it, but I’m finding I’m (probably excessively and irrationally) spooked about the exhaust fumes from the car.  Maybe it’s time to buy another CO detector.

The Second System

Last month, I upgraded my primary computer and one thing that sort of disappointed me about that event was that the old computer was still quite serviceable.  Aside from the need to support larger hard drives, it was perfectly fine.  After I finished the new built, I boxed up the old parts and left them stored for some unknown future day.

While I am still in my personal rebuilding phase, I’m playing around with a lot of ideas.  Most of those ideas are things from my past.  One specific one is music – playing, recording, etc.  So as I mulled this over, I considered the setup plan.  One thing I wanted was to not use my primary computer for the audio recording, as I had always done in the past.  While all computers are powerful enough to multitask like that now, I just didn’t want the clutter.  And that’s when I remembered I had a whole other quite serviceable computer sitting in a box.  All it needed was a new case.  That makes the idea much more reasonable from a cost perspective.

I got to work shopping for a new computer case, which was easy and not easy at the same time.  I wanted a desktop case (horizontal orientation), but it seems they just don’t make those anymore.  Too old fashioned, I guess.  So I shopped for the smallest tower case I could find.  And since this was a secondary system that would be limited in purpose, I bought the cheapest thing available.  And I bought a cheap power supply to install in it, too.  Maybe a total spend of $60.  Everything else I already had ready to go – monitor, cables, drives, RAM.

The case arrived the other day and I wanted to get a jump on things by installing the motherboard in right away.  Upon opening the box, I saw that all the front panels for the drive bays had popped off.  Then I noted the front panel was also popped off.  This gave me a bad feeling.  After extracting the case from the packing material, I was left with a collection of plastic tabs all over the table.  It appears the box was dropped or mangled in some way to basically shear the front panel straight off.  Every plastic tab that held the front panel to the case was broken off.  Not a single one was spared.

I’m not going to go through a bunch of RMA bullshit for a $30 case, but I’m also not going to just pitch it or give up on it.  I went to the garage and got my big box of miscellaneous screws and permanently attached the plastic panel back to the case with sheet metal screws.  That’ll show ‘em.  And without further incident, I installed the motherboard, video card, and hard drives in the case.  Now I just had to await the arrival of the power supply, which would come the next day.

This computer would be one of those unheard of systems that runs off-network.  No updates ever; first install-last install.  File transfer and backup would be via USB drives to my primary computer.  Ah, the good old days.  Time will tell if Windows 10 can even survive in this environment.  If not, well I suppose I could drop back to Windows 7.  Windows 7 is near end-of-life with security updates being phased out in January 2020, but on an unnetworked computer, what’s security?

Next up, software.

My Car’s Second Life

A while ago, I posted about my car’s 300k mile milestone.  Since then, a few things have been in play that have some relation and interaction.  The first is my scheduled garage re-conversion.  This will give me a safe place to store my car and work on it out of the elements.  The other thing is a more or less finalized decision to get a second car, one made for hauling and touring.  That will give my primary car a chance to rest, so its mileage won’t be climbing as quickly – although honestly, it will probably still be my daily driver.  With these two changes, it almost feels like my car is getting a second chance at life, even though it’s at 300k+.  To support this idea, I’ve been planning and working to rejuvenate my car for its second trip around.

When I first got the MX5, back in 2010, I made a series of customizations to make the car my own.  I changed out the upholstery to a custom leather, I changed the antenna, and finally, updated the stereo.  Time has really worn on these changes.  The antenna, once black aluminum, is more or less silver aluminum now.  The leather seats have worn through.  The stereo doesn’t seem to be playing any sound from the left speaker.  And on top of those bits of wear, the leather on my steering wheel has been worn out and torn off for many years now.  I’ve had the thought of rewrapping it, but never quite got around to it, because the stitching is something I don’t feel I could do adequately.

So I’ve got a plan.  First up is the steering wheel.  A new leather wrap is about $120, plus whatever time it takes to stitch it.  They say to budget 12 hours.  Yeah, no.  So what if I took it to an upholstery shop?  The place that sells the wraps will do it for $140 and has a two day turnaround time.  Well, maybe I should wait until I get the second car.  Or, I could buy a junk wheel and have them wrap that one, so my car isn’t unavailable.  Hmmm.

I do a quick search on Ebay and find a replacement factory wheel for $95 shipped.  And the leather on it is perfect.  So, why don’t I just buy that and swap wheels?  It’s far cheaper.  And that’s what I did.  The wheel is on its way.  Soon, I’m going to have a brand new wheel with new leather on it.  And this time, I will preserve it by wearing my driving gloves, so my skin oils don’t destroy the leather again.

Now, the seats.  This one is easy, because I never got rid of the original leather.  It took me a weekend to swap the leather the last time, so I can budget the same this time.  And just like that, the car will look brand new with fresh leather on the seats and wheel.  That leaves the shift knob.  Damn, these are expensive.  $200?  Well, maybe that part will have to wait.  And the antenna?  I’ll just return it to stock; I never got rid of the original, either.

And then the stereo.  Originally, I installed a low-profile subwoofer under the passenger seat, but the sub actually interfered with the airbag sensor, because it was too tall, so I took it back out.  The amplifier was always mounted in the trunk.  Well, after all this time, now the amp is just sitting on the floor of the trunk flopping around loose.  I can now relocate the amp to under the passenger seat and regain my full trunk space, which also means putting back my emergency kit (flat tire and hard-top failure repair).  More returning to stock.

After all this is done, and I have a garage and I have my car’s interior sorted out, the next thing is to get the MX5 repainted.  The fiberglass panels on the car have suffered considerably and the paint is completely ruined on them.  Getting a fresh coat of paint on the whole car, getting the marks and etching of lovebug carcasses off the front bumper, having a garage to keep the car out of the elements, replacing the worn leather parts of the interior,  it does seem like a complete rebirth of the vehicle.  A deserving one for a car that has served me so well and has been through so much with me.

Making The Good Even Better

I hate my kitchen sink.  I have hated it for a very long time.  The thing I hate the most about it is that the sides are so curved, you can barely put anything in the basins.  Any glass I put in there topples over.  It is infuriating to me.

So finally, I made the commitment to get a new sink.  Not only that, but I was going to get a hot water dispenser, a filtered water dispenser, a new garbage disposal, and a new, fancy, pre-rinse spray faucet.  I began my search online and was immediately overwhelmed by the potential options.  I mean, there are a LOT of sink options out there.  Eventually, I settled on a 50/50 split sink.  In the process, I learned a bunch about sinks.  One thing I learned was the gauge of the steel.  You can get anything for 16 to 22 gauge thickness.  16 is probably overkill and you don’t really want more than 20, so 18 is a great target point. 

Also, the thicker steel will reduce some of the tinniness when banging items around in the basins, but that can also be mitigated by sound deadening material.  I looked at my existing sink and it had something like a spray-on sound deadener all over the bottom.  When I bought my new sink, it said it had sound absorption as well.

When I got the sink and unpacked it, I saw the deadener on the sink.  It was a 4” square pad on the bottom of the basins.  What good is that going to do?  I knocked on the sides of the basins and the gong was obnoxious.  Sigh.  This is fine.  I can fix it.  The fix idea isn’t mine or even a new idea at all, you can see plenty of examples of the technique online.

When I was installing my stereo in my car, I used a material called Dynamat, which is essentially the same deadening material that is stuck on the bottom of my sink (although much thicker).  When people deaden their cars for improved audio quality, they usually go overboard and cover every exposed bit of metal.  But the key is that you really only have to cover the areas that resonate.  Corners?  No.  Large flat panels?  Yes.  Cover them entirely?  No.  Cover about 50% of the area?  Yes.

So I made a small purchase of Dynamat online, about $18, and applied it to the edges of the sink.  Each of the flat walls got a treatment.  I made a short video of the before and after effects of the treatment.

Refusing To Be A Victim

I’ve made a couple of posts about my Plex server and recently how I’ve been trying to clean up the files and metadata, specifically, the album art.  Using a self-written utility to audit the artwork dimensions and a downloading utility to find better versions, plus the effort of scanning and cleaning artwork that has no high quality option, I’ve done pretty well.

The next step was to clean up – actually add – the artwork for artists.  It’s a smaller effort, only 600-some items instead of 1600 items.  However, I wanted to get through it easily.  This process requires a bit of explanation on how Plex handles things.  Some of this I learned painfully as I went.

Plex gets a lot of its data from Last.fm, which is really cool and pretty effective.  However, when you don’t want to use that data, you have to disable that “agent” for your library.  Because I was manually managing the artwork on my library, because I wanted hi-res art, and I also wanted the specific original cover instead of the cover on the latest remaster of the album, because of all this, I set everything in plex to manual.  No last.fm anywhere.  That was good.

However, that also meant I had no artist images or bios.  Since I had cleaned up my album art, I wanted to now download artists from last.fm.  I wasn’t going to be picky about images there.  So I re-enabled the last.fm agent and stumbled around trying to figure out how to get plex to refresh the artist data from last.fm.  It’s important to know that the command to use in the artist menu is “Match”.  That will allow you to pick an artist from Last.fm for which to get metadata.

It’s also somewhat important to not use the command, “refresh all metadata”, because that caused Plex to utilize the newly-enabled last.fm agent and download all the data for my albums again.  That wiped out over half of my 1000px covers with 300×300 images.  When I saw this, I was devastated.  The worst part is that even if I used my auditing utility and worked my way through those hundreds of albums, the image picker in Plex gives no indication of which image is small and which is large.  It shows them equally at 150×150.  It would literally be a blind guess between 2 and 4 different images for 900 albums.  It’s not reasonable to accomplish.

I resolved to rebuild my Plex database from scratch.  That would wipe out all the effort I made on the artist artwork, but at least I could preserve my work on album artwork.  I would also lose hours I spent building my playlists.  And I figured if I was going to wipe out the database, I would try some more aggressive actions against it.

My auditing utility has only ever done database reads.  It doesn’t do any updates.  But I spent some time restructuring the code and adding a new feature, which I descriptively named, “replace art with largest version.”  See, Plex never gets rid of things, it just accumulates.  My data folder used to have 44k files in it, but after the last.fm influx, it now had 124k files.  All of my old artwork was there, too.  I just needed to scan and compare sizes, which is what I built my utility to do.

And within a day, I ran my new code and updated all the records to use the large artwork I had added previously.  It worked just as planned.  So now, I have my large artwork back, my playlists are still in place, and the artists artwork is still there.  It seems that anger is an excellent motivator for progress.

It Seems To Be Working

Last July, I had a major update to my HVAC system, getting a whole new unit and a sparkly new thermostat.  I was sort of excited about the thermostat because it was programmable.  However, at the time, my ex and I were working opposite shifts and so I never had the opportunity to exploit the scheduling features.

Well, as circumstances changed a while ago, I only recently decided to revisit these scheduled temperature changes.  I actually wouldn’t have thought much about it if it wasn’t for the cats.  The cats were enjoying hanging out on the patio in the middle of the day and it’s like 90 degrees outside.  While I watched them bake, I was reminded that cats internal body temperature is higher than humans and how an average house temperature is actually really cold for them.  That’s why they’re always looking to curl up in warm places, like sunbeams and beds and laps.

I thought, I guess I could raise the house temp a little for them, and realized, I can do it every day while I’m not around.  That’s why I have this programmable device.  And while I thought the idea was novel, I also questioned whether it would really work.  To me, it didn’t seem like anyone would really be fooled by this scheme.  Sure, you let you house temp rise all day and save the money with the AC not running, but then you have to cool it all back down, so your AC runs hard to bring it back down.  Shouldn’t it be cheaper to maintain than to binge and purge?

I set my thermostat to let the house warm to 79 degrees while I was at work and return it to 74 for the time I would be at home, which includes all day Saturday and Sunday.  After a full month of this, I was able to use my electric company’s data tools to actually see if this was a noticeable improvement.  This is how last month looked.

image

The significance of the rising and falling isn’t anything, but the peaks are.  Every peak happens on a weekend, when the AC is keeping the house at 74 all day.  The only other major contributor to my energy usage would be laundry day, which actually varies, so it’s not really identifiable in the graph.

While that seems interesting for a month’s timeframe, if we zoom out to 14 month’s worth of data, you can see some other things of note.

image

Here, you can definitely see when I replaced my HVAC unit.  The electrical usage dropped right away.  Of course we get into fall and winter, so things are light at that time.  But you can see last month, I had a decent amount of tier 3 usage (which costs more).  This month, in the first graph, I haven’t hit tier 3 yet, so I’m definitely ahead of the game.

Since the cats actually seem to like the warmer house, I think I may bump the day temp to maybe 84.  The only issue that causes is that my office and my master closet stay hot for quite a while, since there’s no AC vents there.  But, I can manage to deal with that if I’m saving a lot of electricity.  I keep a budget of $350/mo for electric, because that’s actually what it used to be in the summer.  But this year, I’m averaging about half that.  That’s how to promote conservation, make it pay.

Spreading The Art

In a recent post, I’ve talked about the rebuild of my Plex database and one of the things that process exposed was the poor quality of my CD cover art.  Long past are the days where a 500×500 cover image would be sufficient, and you could even get by with 240×240.  After all, MP3 player screens didn’t have any significant resolution.  But now, the “MP3 player” in my house is a 60” television screen, with a beautiful “now playing” screen.  And it’s not all the beautiful when the album picture looks like crap.  So it’s time to remedy that.

For a large part of my collection, I was able to rely on a utility called Album Art Downloader, which is a pretty descriptive name as that’s all it does.  It searches a large variety of websites and lets you pick the picture you want to download in whatever resolution is available.  Initially it’s very overwhelming, but once you get it scaled back to a reasonable number of art sources, it’s quite workable.

I settled on a minimum size of 950×950 for my art.  I wanted to have a nice round number like 1000×1000, but one of the album art sites has a default of 953×953 (how odd), so that’s a lot of what I ended up with.  Ridiculously, iTunes and Google Music both have images up to 4000×4000.  Why so many pixels?!  But anyway, I got the best of what I could, and the rest I would have to handle myself.

It was way back in 2008 that I made a post saying I was scanning my less-accessible albums and posting them online.  Of course, back then, I was posting images at 500×500, which was fair over 10 years ago.  In 2014, I made another run at it.  But now, I’m continuing again, but posting the images online at 1500×1500.  This sharing is all well and good, but it doesn’t have the reach I feel it deserves.  Not many people are going to go to Flickr to search for album art, and also, the Album Art Downloader does not search Flickr for artwork, so that should be a sign.

So, where should I upload my contributions?  There’s one website that is pretty highly respected, Album Art Exchange, and I found them many years ago.  But I was immediately turned off by many factors, primarily the site owner’s terrible behavior and the site’s draconian policies.  For a long time, I stayed with Flickr, primarily for the independence, but also because nothing else out there seemed as organized.  Recently, I learned about Fanart.tv and I’m very hopeful that can be my new home for my efforts.

Of course every site has rules and guides to preserve the quality of their content, but it doesn’t seem to be as toxic as Album Art Exchange.  The site is a little rough around the edges, but on the plus side, they have an integration API, so they are open to sharing their content, unlike AAX, who wants to retain complete control over everything.  Fanart ties their entries to MusicBrainz, which is another site I have a little experience with.  I chose Discogs over MusicBrainz for my collection tracking, but I don’t have animosity for them like I do with AAX.  The point is that their artist and album entries are based on an authoritative source, instead of AAX’s free-for-all text entry is a clear positive.

So right now, I have 200 CD covers on Flickr that I can contribute, excluding any dupes of course.  But then again, I’ve pretty much only uploaded covers I can’t find anywhere else, so that’s promising.  In my collection, I am down to 37 albums under 950px where I can’t find any better source of artwork.  Some of the albums I’ve been scanning I am really surprised don’t have a high-quality image online already.  I have some obscure albums, but Eddie Money’s Greatest Hits?  Surely that would be on iTunes or Google Music, right? Nope.  You can’t find a good image anywhere.  I was also surprised I couldn’t find Styx – Return To Paradise.  On the other hand, I am also amazed at how a lot of classical albums can have different covers for the same album, sometimes with different working, sometimes different pictures.  It’s very strange.  “That’s the album, but that’s not the cover.”

Entering any new community is always scary, especially on the Internet.  Wish me luck.

This Blows. Or Doesn’t.

If you have been following along, I’ve had some issues with my car, specifically the heating/cooling system.  Going way back, I had a dealership repair shop tell me once that I needed a new blower motor because that’s where the “hissing” sound was being caused.  I knew that was bullshit because the hissing was the AC condenser (or evaporator, I can never get those two straight).

Somewhat recently, the blower fan started a ticking sound, that would speed up and slow down with the fan speed.  I started to think, ok, this is where it needs to be replaced.  But, I also knew it could be debris stuck in the fan.  So before I actually ordered a new fan, I pulled out the blower motor.  As far as replaceable parts in my micro-vehicle, this is one of the easiest.  Crawl in the passenger footwell, unplug a wire harness, remove three screws and done.  I wish it was all that easy.

When I did drop the motor out, it came with about half a dozen dried up leaves.  No motor problems.  That saved me a little money.  A new OEM fan is about $150.  A new aftermarket fan is $50-$75.  But right now, it was unneeded.

Then, a couple days ago, I was out driving and upon starting up the car after a store visit, there was no AC.  Not just no AC, there was no fan.  This is worse.  I clicked the fan switch on and off to no avail.  I could hear the AC compressor kicking on when I turned the fan switch, it’s just the blower fan wasn’t moving.  Ok, I’m no stranger to driving all day with no AC, especially this year, so I headed straight home for troubleshooting.

At home, I dropped the motor quickly and used a simple test light to see if power was getting to the motor.  That would identify if it was a fuse or the motor.  Yes, power was being sent.  I plugged the fan back in and switched the fan on.  No movement.  I touched the fan blades and the slight bump I gave started the motor spinning.  Ugh, so the motor just can’t get started.  Oh well – replacement time.

I went straight to EBay and evaluated my options: the new OEM or the new aftermarket.  Price was a concern, but speed of delivery was more paramount.  The frontrunner was a $55 aftermarket, but it would take 2 weeks to arrive.  I could pay $20 for priority shipping, with no guarantee it would get here more than a day earlier.  The winner turned out to be option 3 – a used OEM part.  $62 with guaranteed delivery in 3 days.  It was a good balance of speed and quality.  I usually don’t shy away from used parts on a used car, it’s almost more logical that way.

So, while I’m waiting for this fan part, things are a little more critical for me.  Without AC, sure I was suffering, but without any ventilation at all, it’s a hazard.  If it starts raining, I’ll have to roll up the windows and the glass will fog up immediately.  I will have no way to defog the glass.  The best I’ll be able to do is carry a towel with me and wipe the windshield when I can.  That’s not something I’m interested in doing at 80mph on the state highway to hell.  Seriously, it was ranked 2017’s deadliest highway in the US.

Please get delivered early…

Teamviewer Farewell

This isn’t really a “biggest and bloatedest” post, but it is in the same kind of vein, since it involves leaving behind a company that I once really enjoyed.  This time it’s the great remote-access utility, Teamviewer.  I was first introduced to TV long ago when I was doing remote computer assistance (an Uber of computer helpdesks – way before its time).

As time went on, TV got more and more advanced.  They added many new features specifically for providing helpdesk services, none of which were really useful to me.  All I needed was remote desktop access and sometimes file transfer.  I didn’t need chat, or ticket logging, or video capture, or lots of other things.  So I guess in a way, TV did become big and bloated.

But the software itself was impeccable.  Very well-written code and always in touch with current Microsoft security and coding practices.  It’s software that I would buy, but unfortunately, it wasn’t really for sale.  TV’s business was business users and consumers were trusted to use the software for free for personal use.  That sounds really good and fair, right?  It is, but I did feel a little guilty about it.  Not because I was using it for business use, but just that I used it SO much.  I would love to buy a license, but the cheapest you could get was a $50/mo subscription.  Ohhh, I hate subscriptions.  And $50/mo is not really reasonable (to me) for personal use.

So I kept using it for free, until one day I started getting notices that TV detected I was using their software for business use.  I don’t know exactly what they noticed that seemed suspicious.  I have a couple ideas, but I don’t know for sure.  If I choose to really think about it, it’s worrisome that the software is actively watching what I do to catch me doing business operations.  Anyway, I ignored the warnings, because they weren’t applicable.  When I rebuilt my computer and connected to it remotely, I got a much more severe warning.  It declared that I was using the software for commercial use and my connection would be terminated within minutes.  Subsequent connections also got cut off as well. 

I filled out an online form to appeal their judgement, which they said would be responded to in about a week.  But I pretty much knew that my time with Teamviewer was over.  It was time to find another remote access utility.  And the one I eventually chose was the free one built into Windows – Terminal Services or Remote Desktop Connection.  I was a little hesitant to implement it because of the reputation RDC has for being vulnerable to attack.  However, taking my time and considering the risks made me more comfortable in the choice.

For most RDC breaches, attacks are made using common account names and weak passwords.  Neither could be true in my case.  In fact, my configuration is more secure than Teamviewer.  With TV, an attacker needs two pieces of data: the computer ID and a password.  To attack me, you need an IP address, a custom port number, my username and my password.  That’s twice as many elements needed, and the potential values are vast.

So, that’s how I now waste the day away when I’m at work.  I’ve disabled Teamviewer, so that’s one less attack vector for my computer, which to be honest, always spooked me.  TV has not had any account breaches that I know of, but their user database would be a goldmine for hackers.