Switching to NordVPN

Recently I found a new deal on Mashable about a service called NordVPN for a 2 year subscription for $69. That’s a pretty decent deal in my book. I have been using Private Internet Access for the last 2-3 years as my VPN provider which I used on my NAS, computers, and iOS devices. I was generally happy with PIA but the one thing that totally sold me was that I could be on NordVPN and also watch Netflix. To me that was one of its greatest weaknesses, that and I could never get the OpenVPN protocol to work right on my NAS for some reason. After some initial hiccups with the setup on my NAS and getting my account set up, everything seems to be working pretty well.

I’ve noticed that my iPhone 7 will always stay connected to the VPN now rather than the VPN stopping on its own. That’s definitely a nice feature. I don’t necessarily need to be connected all the time to the VPN but its nice that it doesn’t turn itself off. The speed with which the VPN works is about the same as PIA, apparently my connection goes through a double VPN so if one VPN server fails, its already on a backup server too so my connection never drops. Since its a seamless thing, its not something that I can see or review. Using the app is a cinch on all my devices, its not specific really on what city I’m connecting to but for the most part I’ve been running some Whois queries on the web about my IP address and I seem to be connecting to the closest server to my current location, that’s probably to ensure that my speed isn’t really hindered by distance. I can select a specific country but not the server. The place I do that is with my NAS which requires an OpenVPN profile to be imported.

Overall I would say that I like this service more than PIA so far. I’ve only had it for about 2 weeks but I’m locked in for 2 years so if I’m ever dissatisfied I’m going to be stuck with the service for a while. I’m sure more features will come to the service to keep things nice and fresh but the most important part for me is keeping things secure. Oh and one of the best parts that I’ve discovered about the service? I can access my banking website just fine now through the VPN rather than being blocked. Now that to me is a game changer on not only keeping myself secure but able to do my personal business while using public hotspots.

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I have too much GoPro Footage

GoPro Hero Session

I got this little guy about 3 years ago to try and take some action cam footage while I was away on vacation.  I received it as part of a package deal in which at 32GB card was included.  I upgraded that to a pair of 2 64GB cards and I think thats half of the problem I’m now encountering.  Due to the pair of fairly large micro SD cards that I have I take a lot of footage and most of it is crappy.  I’m too lazy to go through all of it so I end up transferring it to one of my external drives for later review which is something that I don’t really do.

I’ve filled up close to have a terrabyte of storage already with pictures and videos and its gotten to a point that some of this stuff just has to go.  I’ve even considered getting new NAS drives which would run me about $500, while that would help me in other areas this really wouldn’t help me unless I start doing reviews of my footage.  I’ll admit I’m a digital pack rat, I’ll save footage because some day I might want to view it.  I’m also a bit lazy in constructing my videos into smaller videos with just highlights from multiple sources.  While its really easy to do using iMovie, getting the video to my iPhone to do the edit (I’m not on my MacBook a lot during the week due to work).

The camera itself is pretty good, I wish it had image stabilization on it and the voice activation part as well so I don’t have to actually hit the button on top of the unit.  Thats just small inconveniences, it doesn’t warrant me going out and getting an entirely new GoPro.  Although I will admit that having those two features would be pretty bad ass.  Maybe I’ll save my pennies for a GoPro Hero 6.  I could use it for a few of my upcoming trips thats for sure.  One thing I am sure of, I might take my MacBook on my next vacation and a hard drive or two to store all the footage so I can start making some movies.  I mean technically I can keep it directly on my MacBook Pro, it has 1TB of storage and I’ve barely scratched the surface but I also don’t want to do it to keep my footage off a computer.

I’ll have to start going through the footage again soon, right now GoPro’s app Quik is downloading 64GB of junk that I’ve shot in the last year or so to one of my external drives.  I need to see what space I can free up, I think some of the oldest footage is of stuff like my daughters soccer practice and she’s not really going to watch that stuff (although maybe I should make it into a small video and email it to my daughter).  OK rant over, time to get some shut eye so I can do the rest of the laundry tomorrow and pack up for another thrilling week in NJ.  I’d bring my GoPro but there isn’t anything interesting in NJ worth shooting any footage and taking up previous hard drive space.

What happened to the premium features on the 2018 Odyssey?

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This is a photo of my 2012 Honda Odyssey when I first got it for the family.  Looks pretty awesome doesn’t it?  It’s actually missing the body side molding that I have put on to protect the doors and the front windows aren’t tinted yet because I like my cars to be all gangsta like that (really its for privacy and to keep the UV rays at a minimum so we don’t become rotisserie chicken in the driver seat).  My wife allowed me to get the Touring Elite version of the van because I liked having the really large wide screen monitor (16″ thank you) in the back that can do split screen and the blind spot indicators to tell me if some jackass is just hanging out beyond the range of my mirrors.  I also went shopping for the van with my new born so that helped a lot in getting the van I wanted since she was distracted more than half the time with my kid.  I had a reason to go to my local Honda dealer to get some work done on the van, its starting to show some age at 66,000 miles but while I was there they had a 2018 Touring edition there for me to look around in.  There was also the fact that my local dealership likes to bother me while my car is being serviced to see if I would like to trade in my van.  I keep on telling them no thanks, my wife doesn’t want another mini van and I only have the one child and the fur baby (the puppy), there’s no reason to have another van.  If Honda would make a small SUV with some power behind it, maybe I could be convinced to get a CRV or something.  Anyway I’m digressing again.

The Touring edition is just below the Touring Elite but it has basically almost all the same stuff.  As I was looking in the van I noticed that some of the things that I wanted in the Odyssey were missing but they might be in the Touring Elite.  One of the things that I think they cheapened out on was the large 16″ wide screen monitor.  This one came with a smaller screen that can’t do split screen, I looked up the brochure and this option is no longer available on the van which is a shame.  I also poked around for the cool box which uses the A/C in your car to keep drinks cold while you drive wherever.  This has been completely omitted from the van from all trim levels.  I use this feature almost every week to keep drinks cold for the family whether its a long trip or a short trip.

Now I will admit that there are some really cool new features that I wish I had but these aren’t deal breakers for me really.  There is that new “are we there yet” view that shows the kids if we’re approaching the destination, the new camera system inside the car so you can see people in the back and have the ability to talk to them.  There is also a Blu-Ray player but I mainly use HDMI in my van and snaked some cables to support my iPhones so we can watch Netflix while we drive.  I wish I had all the new safety gear in the newer van but its not something that I need (I ignore lane departure and forward collision warning on my Accord most of the time).  The lack of a real gear shift bothers me some, its just buttons on a console, its not nearly as bad as what Chrysler does with their cars but its getting there.

There might be too much tech within the new Odyssey that doesn’t make a lot of sense since there should be things like CarPlay or Android Auto taking over for a lot of the in house built infotainment features of cars these days.  Some of the options are cool, the seats being able to slide together was one of them when you remove the middle seat in the middle row, but thats not going to be used the majority of the time.  I think HDMI and more real power plugs would have made the Odyssey a better vehicle rather than reducing the size of the screen or killing off my previous cold beverage cooler.  I think if I get another van its going to be a 20 foot long class B RV.  Those are built on commercial van platforms and I can even have a real fridge and toilet in it while still being able to park in a regular parking spot at my local Publix.  But thats a ways off, maybe in retirement or something. Theres still 2 years left on the warranty on the van, I might as well use it as much as I can to get things fixed before it runs out.  Then maybe just 2 more years until its replaced with something fancier and maybe self driving.

Spring Break in Breckinridge

Once again the family decided to go on a ski trip to Colorado. To change things up we decided to go skiing at Breckinridge instead of Keystone. Both ski resorts are really close to each other and they use the same Epic passes that we purchased last year so we could use the Epic App to track our progress on how many times we went up the mountain.

Similar to our last trip to Colorado, we came in late at night and stayed close to the airport for the night. We ended up going to Keystone anyway first because we wanted to go tubing and to see the snow fort. With the Epic passes we were allowed to do that. I took some good GoPro video of the family tubing. What was kind of scary wasn’t the tubing or anything like that, it was getting to Keystone through Loveland Pass. This pass goes up and down a mountain and is supposedly the fastest way to Keystone from I-70. I don’t recommend it if you have a fear of falling off a mountain in your car. There aren’t any guard rails at all and the mountain is also a ski resort. While at Keystone we had to take in a meal at the top of the mountain because thats the only way to eat.

I will say that for food, Breckinridge wins when compared to Keystone and Snowbird. The town is excellent and has a lot of places to eat. We tried some diversified cuisine such as Thai, Cajun, Pizza, and Italian. There was plenty to eat so this trip was definitely the most expensive in the food department. The mountain itself was pretty impressive, I stuck to Peak 9 and did more intermediates this year than I did last year. My daughter had fun in snowboard school where they had some trails that were set up in the woods on the beginner slopes with some fun obstacles and props. There was also a really cool roller coaster that was built in the woods, I took a GoPro video of that too. https://youtu.be/fL6_IsrEBco

I think the hardest part about Breckinridge was the hotel. It was laid out pretty weird since it was built into the mountain. I had to take 2 different elevators just to get to my hotel room and when you’re wearing ski boots thats pretty tough. An additional elevator was required to get my ski’s from the locker and then a short walk to the slopes. Ideally it would have been better if we were in a ski in ski out sort of hotel. Another thing that annoyed me was the $35 a day I had to pay for valet parking for my car that never left the garage. I think thats kind of a rip off but since Breckinridge is a tourist town everything has a fee attached to it. I don’t know if I would go back to Breckinridge, I’m more partial to Keystone. I enjoyed their trails more and my daughter liked her snowboard instructor there too.

My wife did make a really awesome suggestion for the flight home, since we were traveling at midnight, we decided to stay at a hotel right at the airport. The good thing was that the hotel was a Westin so I could use some hotel points instead of having to pay for the 5 hours we would be using it. It’s not the most economical way to use my points but its definitely the most comfortable. I might as well add some nice scenery pictures to the post, I do like Colorado, maybe I should retire there and be a seasonal ski instructor in my old age.

Another snow storm???

IT seems I have the most rotten luck when it comes to traveling to New Jersey.  I stayed home the week before because I was sick and I just missed another “bombocalyse” that decided to hit the north east with crazy amounts of snow.  Since I was feeling better I went up to NJ for work and little did I know but there was another snow storm coming.  I had already been trapped by snow in NJ in early January when I first heard the term “bombocalypse” which caused me to go all the way to Philly to catch a flight home the next day.

This time the snow storm hit on a Wednesday and it was a whopper.  One of the heaviest snow storms I’ve ever experienced in the north east ever.  I made the mistake of going into the office with the intention of going home in the early afternoon.  As usual work decided to rear its ugly head and I stayed until about 5PM.  I attempted to leave work but only made it maybe a mile before I turned around to go back to the office to wait it out.  The snow was so heavy I didn’t even realize that I had crested a hill.  It was true white out conditions, could barely see in front of me, the road didn’t even exist and there was at least 8 inches of new powder on the ground.  It didn’t help things that I was in a Mercedes Benz CLA250 instead of an SUV.  I will admit though, the car was able to drive in the snow like a champ but I would still never buy one myself.

I decided to take some pictures during the day to show the progression of the snow.  It started nice and slow but as the afternoon crept up it got really bad.  Apparently the office lost power because the diesel generators in the parking garage were on but it was pretty seamless, I never even knew the power was out.  Some of my co-workers who decided to stay at the hotel sent me a text message that the hotel had lost power and its generator ran out of gas.  Well that wasn’t encouraging in the least since I didn’t have any dinner that evening.  I ended up leaving at around 8:30 from the office, the snow had generally stopped which was good but there were lots of places where there wasn’t power and this was really wet and heavy snow.

The following day the roads were pretty clear but one of my usual paths to work, the road was closed due to downed power lines and downed trees.  Needless to say it was very pretty to drive through and I took a picture from my car when there was no one on the road with me just to capture the moment (using my iPhone 7 of course).  What was nice is that they cleared up the roads and more importantly the airport so I wasn’t stranded this week.  That would have really peeved me since I don’t like flight delays of any kind especially ones caused by weather.  This coming week there is no travel for me so I won’t have to worry about getting caught in another freak snow storm.  The only place I’m interested in seeing a ton of snow is at Breckenridge in about 2 weeks.  Thats when my spring break begins (yeah I’m going skiing in spring) and I want lots of fresh powder to ski in.

Robots are invading my home!!!

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I was cruising 9to5toys.com a few days ago and I saw a great deal on robot vacuums on Newegg.com.  I went over to Amazon and decided to read up on the reviews and the one that was on sale had some pretty decent ones.  For about $140 bucks, these things were downright cheap since most vacuums are over $200.  This isn’t my first foray with a robot vacuum, I had one very very briefly over the holidays by EcoVacs.  The difference between the EcoVacs and the iLife is that the other one had a mop and could be controlled by an iPhone.  The iLife can only be controlled by the included remote control and I can’t use my Echo Dot to control it either but to me thats ok.  I’m not very trustful of the internet of things just yet and I don’t want the vacuum trying to attack my puppy while I’m away from home.

I haven’t set the vacuums up (yep I got one for upstairs and one for downstairs) but they’ll probably run on two different schedules.  Upstairs will likely be running during the day and the one downstairs will be running at night.  The hope is that the majority of the dust in the house will be cleaned up by the robot vacuums leaving us not so much to clean afterwards.  I’ll have to try these out for a few days or weeks but if they are anything like the EcoVac, these things should be up to the task of at least getting the daily dust off the floor and into the trash.

The reason for 2 vacuums was mainly because they need to clean upstairs and downstairs and bringing the one vacuum up and down the stairs is a pain in the butt. I had already done this with the previous vacuum and it didn’t really work out so well. The price of two of these vacuums essentially equaled a single robot vacuum of almost every other brand.  When I had the EcoVacs it picked up a ton of dirt when I just let it roam around.  It was fun to control with my iPhone and stuff but its not essential and the less things connected to my network the better, although having the garage door hooked up to my phone would be totally sweet.  The iLife can be programmed which is exactly what I need.  Just set it and forget it kind of vacuum.  I think I’ll see if I can make it only run during the week, the weekends are too unpredictable and besides, it will be nice to have the robots clean up after me during the week.

I’m curious to know how loud these things are, they can’t be much louder than the EcoVac I had.  That thing was really good at picking up dirt but it was a little bit on the loud side.  Thats why I think my schedule will work out well, when the vacuum runs, people won’t be in that area of the house so it shouldn’t bother us while it goes to work.  The fact that it will find its base on its own will be cool too so it can charge and go on its own.  The only problem I see is that it doesn’t have sensors to keep it away from certain areas.  I would have liked to keep it away from the downstairs carpet since the other vacuum got stuck on it or away from the wires that are upstairs but I can block that off.

The age of robots is upon us, let it do my bidding and clean my floors!

Drawing on Airplanes = FAIL!

I use the Paper by 53 app for most of my sketches whether at home or while traveling. I have purchased Procreate (when it was on sale of course) but I really haven’t touched it after attempting to use it a few times. I’m just a simple person that makes stick figures most of the times or use basic geometric shapes to convey what I’m telling people. I am trying to keep a little book of doodles for my daughter of things that she has accomplished by trying to draw her badges. I have been remiss on doing it but I was trying to catch up on doing it on my flight to San Francisco. I even brought my Pencil by 53 just to do it. I’m working on her snowboard badges by attempting to draw the mountain logo of where she has shredded. The current logo is a bit difficult for me, but I thought hell I have 5 hours to kill on the plane I can do this! NOPE! Absolute fail on my part.

I forgot that planes tend to encounter turbulence and my art skills are already shaky as it is. Having a plane jitter under your iPad while attempting to free hand draw a straight line just isn’t possible. I wasn’t even going for the full logo, I was trying to draw the Kidtopia logo since that was technically easier for me to draw than the actual logo for Keystone. After a few fits and starts I kind of gave up on it. I was going to type this out on my iPad but again, the plane jitters in the air which makes it difficult. I’m writing this on my iPhone 7 since turbulence doesn’t affect my typing skills when holding it in both hands.

Of course as I’m writing this we have hit a patch of smooth air so I could conceivably try drawing again. I’ll just make a copy of my drawing to keep my current master piece intact. That’s the one area that I think Procreate is better than Paper, it has layers to control these sorts of things. I guess I still prefer more simplicity in my apps. There are hundreds of brushes to choose from as well as individual settings that can be tweaked to create a master piece of iPad art. I still use colored pencils and a notebook for most drawings so I guess it’s hard for me to break away from that construct even in the digital age. Kind of amusing actually since I have done my best to delete paper from every other aspect of my work and home life (where possible) to reduce clutter.

Below is the badge I made in paper last year. It was her first year snowboarding and we did it at Snowbird. I try to incorporate the logo of the mountain with some junk that I think represents the area. On the top is the snowbird logo along with a simple mountain and crossed snowboards. She used Burton boots and a Burton board but I happened to have a K2 board when I tried snowboarding which is why I included that logo. I definitely didn’t make this on a plane, I had a nice steady surface in Florida to sketch this out after the trip was over. If I have time I’ll work on the logo for last year this week if inspiration strikes. I suspect making these logos will be easier with an Apple Pencil, it won’t have a squishy tip like my current Pencil and I can be more precise so I can move away from 3rd grade sketches to something approaching a high school freshman.

Beverage service is here! Hopefully I won’t spill my drink on my computer bag.