Water Upgrades

If you’ve ever washed your glassware and let it dry and end up getting a white cloudy substance that coats it that’s the dissolved minerals in your water which is referred to as Hard Water.   You may see it on your faucets, shower doors, and anything that can get wet from your water at home.  Our previous home was not far away, so we used the same water company and the hard water broke one of our coffee makers within a year, and the broke our ice maker from our fridge. The mineral buildup was difficult to scrap off. Using harsh chemicals wasn’t an option.  I ended up getting a water conditioner (rather than a true water softener).  The conditioner didn’t soften the water. The conditioner gives the minerals an ionic charge that prevents it from clinging to itself.  You still get those white spots, but it was much easier to clean off.  Wiping it with a paper towel was all that was need to clean it up.

I recently installed a water softener for our new house.  It’s awesome and it has been great. I wish I did it when we were living at our old house.  South San Jose is notorious for its hard water.  According to the USGS Website water with dissolved calcium and magnesium of 7 gpg (grains per gallon) or 120 ml/L (milligram per liter) is considered hard water. According to our water provider, Great Oaks Water, their water hardness is 18 gpg (grains per gallon) or 307.8 ml/L (milligram per liter.)  That’s the over 250% over those values.

If you’re struggling to clean up the water spots from your faucets and dishware or your appliances getting clogged up with mineral deposits I highly recommend a softener.  There are other benefits such as softer skin and hair.  I find myself using a lot less lotion, soap, and shampoo.  I have a Fleck 5600STX 64,0000 Grain system that I purchased from Amazon, and I got a plumber to install it.  The system requires me to add a 40 pound bag of salt each month.

 

Lawn Trouble

When we finally moved into our new home we noticed the grass was dying.  It seems the previous owner might have stopped watering it after we went under contract.  I had no knowledge of how to care for a lawn, so I did the next best thing.  Watch a bunch of Youtube videos on how to do it.

I got some tools, lawn soil, and grass seed.  I raked away the dead grass and turned up the dirt where there was no grass.  I added some new lawn soil, spread and mixed in the grass seeds into the soil.  I watered it everyday and I started to notice some of the seeds beginning to germinate, but I was disappointed at the rate and sparse growth.

One early morning my wife noticed that we had a few little birds hanging out in our backyard.  Curious to see what they were up to I opened the sliding door to my yard and when I took a few steps onto the lawn, and in that moment, several dozens of little birds flew away.  I was shocked. These little birds were feeding on all the grass seeds that I have spread over my lawn past two weeks.  So back to the Youtube videos.

I spent about 10 bucks at Lowe’s and bought a plastic decoy Great Owl to be used to scare rodents and birds.  I was hoping they had a more menacing raptor but from what I read these Great Owls are quite the predator.  I set the plastic Owl on the kid’s play structure and moved it around the backyard every few days.  I’m not sure if this decoy is working or if the cold weather is keeping the birds away.  Anyhow, over the next two months the grass began to grow and it’s been looking a lot greener.

The pictures below will show the 3 month difference.

Dead grass
Dead Grass
Green grass
Green grass

New Year and New Changes

It looks like my yearly blog post is due.  I’ve been meaning write more posts but I’ve been busy and being lazy.  2019 was a busy year to say the least.  My family and I bought a new home and sold our old one.  It was quite the ordeal, but in the end it was all worth it.  In December I got a promotional opportunity at work which I accepted and will start in a week. The most exciting news was the birth of our 4th child, a daughter.  It was a total surprise as we choose not to know the sex of the baby during the pregnancy.  We currently have 3 wonderful boys, so we are thrilled to have a daughter.

I’m not making any promises, but I’ll try to at least make another post before this year ends.  Since moving into our new home I’ve been busy dealing with home issues and home upgrades.  I’ll try to write something up about them on this blog.

Passed my CISM Exam!

After about 3 months of studying I finally took my CISM exam and passed. It was tough. It was a lot tougher than I expected even with all the studying I put in. The CISM focus on mainly on management, so it required a different style of thinking compared to many of my other technical certifications I’ve taken.

If you’re thinking about getting your CISM certification I highly recommend the following book. It’s a lot easier to read than others, and it comes with a great practice test software.

(The book is not an ad nor do I get anything out of it for mentioning it. It’s just a great resource if you’re studying for the CISM exam.)

Hard Drive Encryption

I have an old desktop at home that my wife and I use. It’s going on 5 years and it does everything we need from photo editing and gaming. But one of the things that bothered me is that my hard drive isn’t encrypted. As a cyber security professional it bugged the hell out of me. Over the past few weeks I had to buy a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip that was compatible with my old motherboard. For those tech nerds, I know I don’t need one, but I wanted to use Bit Locker encryption without using a USB stick and PIN every time I boot up my computer. Anyhow, I bought one on Amazon, and I spent 4 hours trying to get it to work, but it turned out to be incompatible even though the manufacture stated it would work. So I ended up returning it. After some Googling efforts I learned that I needed a TPM module with a specific firmware version that worked with my motherboard. So I scoured eBay and found a seller who had one in stock. After a week-long wait I got my TPM chip and now my desktop hard drive is encrypted.

For those who aren’t familiar with hard drive encryption I’ll try to break it down as simple as I can.

For people who have a desktop computer it tends to be their primary computer where they store everything on it from personal family photos to work related documents. Most desktops don’t have encrypted hard drives as most manufacturer don’t believes it’s a necessary feature. This means that, for some unfortunate reason, if someone stole your desktop all the information on the hard drive on that computer is easily accessible. Even if you have a 25 character password for your Windows login. If a thief was interested in the contents of your drive they can pull out the hard drive and plug it into a different computer system and read all the files stored on it. This can be scary if you store sensitive information on it such as your social security number, credit card information, and other personal information.

Most modern laptops today have encrypted hard drives as they’re more mobile and easier targets of theft compared to desktops. Thieves will have a very hard time accessing the information of your laptop due to it’s encryption. Unlike desktops, the hard drive is bound to the motherboard. So if a thief pulls the hard drive and plugs it into another computer they wouldn’t be able to access any information on it. They would need to have special encryption key stored within the original motherboard. There’s a special chip call a TPM where that key would be stored.

Again, I don’t want to get too much in the details but having encrypted hard drives is critical in keeping your information secure even if it’s a desktop computer. If you have a Windows computer and your C drive has a padlock image that looks like the one below it means your drive is encrypted. If not, then it’s no encrypted.

Go ahead, and check on your Windows laptop or desktop computer. Is it encrypted?

Poop In the Toilet

One of the biggest milestones as parent is seeing your child poop or pee in the toilet for the first time.  My second oldest son has finally done it.  He’s over 3 and half years old and up until yesterday I didn’t think he was ever going to stop wearing his diaper.

Now that he’s a “Big Boy” I guess my wife and I will have to plan a Disneyland trip; an incentive for his potty efforts.

Avengers Infinity War

The hype is real.  10 years in the making with some great and not-so-great films leading up to the arrival of Thanos to gather all the Infinity stones to be come a god.  This movie can only be truly appreciated if you invested in previous Marvel movies. They somehow managed to squeeze all these star studded casts and characters without bogging down the plot or create some weird disorienting story line.  It’s hard to talk about the movie without spoiling it. All I can say is that I enjoyed the movie from the opening screen till the end credits.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★½

Rampage

Rampage is loosely based off one of my favorite childhood games. I remember playing this game hours on ends on the Sega Master System.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays the titular role in saving the world.  Unlike other movies based on video games Rampage is a fun and exciting through and through.  If you’re looking for a fun giant-monster movie this is it even if you never play the game.  I wouldn’t be surprise if a sequel is in the works.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Surface Book 2 “15 Review

During the fall of last year I needed a new laptop and I was doing a lot of research and decided to go with the new Macbook Pro 15″.  I chose it mainly for the build quality, battery life, and it’s ability to be able to run Windows if I needed it to.  But as it turns out I ended up needed to be in a Windows environment more than I was expected.  Running Windows 10 via Bootcamp didn’t have the battery life I needed, and running it as a virtual machine via VMWare Fusion didn’t have the smooth performance I wanted.

On to the Surface Book 2 review, so I picked this up several weeks ago and I couldn’t be more happier with my choice.  The build quality is excellent and the battery life is great.  Prior to my stint with the Macbook Pro I was using a Thinkpad W520. It was a large portable workstation that I used for about 7 years.  Everything about the Surface Book 2 blows it away.

The 15″ screen is amazing. The 3:2 aspect ratio is great for productivity work.  I work on large spreadsheets, multiple Powerpoint files, and the occasional retro gaming, just to name a few, and the SB2 screen makes the whole experience more enjoyable. The screen is bright and sharp and I can easily use it in bright environments without any problems.

The battery life on the SB2 is exceptional. It’s likely due to it running on the Intel 8th Gen U series processor that is 15 Watt TDP instead of the 7th Gen H series that is 45 Watt TDP as used in the  latest Macbook Pro “15.  I’ve never had a chance to run down the battery completely to get the full battery life time, but on several occasions, as a lecturer at a University, I would take the SB2 to my office hours, then to my 3 hour class. I would go 4.5 hours and end with about 54 percent battery remaining.  On the Macbook Pro,  I would normally end with about 42 percent. For reference, my old Thinkpad W520 would struggle to go beyond 3.5 hours even with a new replacement battery.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Thinkpad line of laptops because of their durability and unassuming designs but at the expense of a more modern and fashionable styles (which is reserved for their Yoga product lines). The SB2 is all about the industrial look. It’s slim and minimalist looking. It’s as close to the Macbook Pro in quality than any other laptop out there in the market.  The SB2 hasn’t gotten hot or warm at all during the time that I’ve used it during my non-gaming use. The keyboard is great. There’s plenty of travel and it is very comfortable to use, and the glass trackpad is smooth and very responsive. I think its one of the best trackpads for a Windows system I’ve used. The trackpad does have a loud clicking mechanism, but I tend to use the double-tap to click function anyway.

Overall, the Surface Book 2 “15 is one of the best laptops out on the market.  It’s a 2-in-1 device as the screen can be detached and used separately as a tablet. I don’t see myself using it as a tablet, but knowing that if one day I do need it that it’s there.  The mechanism to release the screen is ingenious. All I have to do is press a button and a message pops up to say its ready to be removed.  Popping the screen back into the base automatically locks the screen in place.  I’ve taken the screen off a few times to show people how it works, and every time people are surprised how cool the features is.  If there’s only one thing that I wish the SB2 had was a Thunderbolt port. It’s just annoying that as expensive and high-end this laptop is suppose to be that it’s missing something that is standard among mid range laptop released last year.  It’s only saving grace is that it has a USB C port.  I’ve used the USB C port a few times to charge and to output video to a VGA adapter (not at the same time).

Lastly, the thing that surprises me was the Surface proprietary charging port.  I was annoyed that Microsoft decided to use a proprietary solution instead of the USB C/Thunderbolt. As it turns out the port uses a magnetic adapter solution, similar to the old Macbooks MagSafe chargers.  There was a couple of times where I accidentally kicked the power adapter and the cable snapped off as expected. If it was charged via USB C my SB2 would have easily flown off the table. At that point I didn’t feel so bad for having that proprietary charging port.  So, if you’re in the market for a high end Windows laptop that provides smooth and productive computing experience I highly recommend it given you can stomach the high price.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

Pros:
Incredibly Fast
Excellent Battery Life
No additional Manufacturer Bloatware
Windows Hello Face Recognition is very fast
Great build quality

Cons:
Very expensive
Doesn’t come with Surface Pen
No Thunderbolt 3 port
No Fingerprint reader

Macbook Pro, You’ll be missed

Several months ago I got a brand new Macbook Pro 15″.  It was my first Mac computer and it was great. It was great for doing many of the basic things like browsing and presenting PowerPoint  and a few other things. But creating documents were a bit frustrating. I’ve used MS Office on a Windows PC for so long and it’s the only way I’ve done it.  It’s nothing against the Macbook Pro or MacOS its actually the MS Office Suite for Mac was just different.  Basic templates for it weren’t available and the ability to embed web videos isn’t available as it is on the Windows version, just to name a few.

I got VMWare Fusion 10 to enable my Macbook Pro to run Windows, but the slight sluggish performance was annoying. It was annoying when browsing, working on MS office suite apps, and other software I can only use in Windows.  I switched to Bootcamp, Apple’s tool to run Windows natively on their hardware. This solved the Windows performance issue. But that solution led to another problem.  Since the Macbook Pro has a discrete video card, a dedicated high performance video card, it was the primary video driver for Bootcamp.  Instead of using the Intel integrated video chip it used the discrete video card 100% of the time which dramatically decrease the battery life, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Unable to live with those annoyances I sold the Macbook Pro and got the Surface Book 2, 15″ model.  The Surface Book 2 is an amazing device it does everything that I need it to do and the battery life is awesome. It’s just as good as the Macbook Pro, with MacOS, if not, better.

There are a few things that’ll I’ll miss from the Macbook Pro. First being the amazing trackpad. The smoothness and all the gestures built into MacOS makes it a joy to use.  The trackpad on the Surface Book 2 is also great. Windows 10 has a lot of great trackpad gestures but overall performance and smoothness the Macbook Pro edges it.  Secondly, the Macbook Pro’s build quality is top notch. Almost everything about it makes it feels and looks premium. The Surface Book 2 looks just as premium. The build quality is also great. Again, the Macbook Pro has a slight edge against the Surface Book 2.  I think its the Surface Book 2’s magnesium case. Maybe its just me, but it feels plasticky (is that a word?).  I know its all metal. I guess I’m not use the magnesium feel of it.   If I had to give it a score for build quality the Macbook Pro gets a 10 and the Surface Book 2 gets a 9.5. And Lastly, I will miss the Thunderbolt 3 ports.  The ability to charge the laptop from any port and use any of them to connect to a monitor or a Thunderbolt 3 hub makes it so flexible and future proof.  The Surface Book 2 doesn’t have a TB3 port. But it does have one USB-C port. You can charge the SB2 with it and output to a monitor, but not at the same time.

There are some trade offs between the two laptops, but overall the Surface Book 2 is the ultimate laptop.  I didn’t mention it yet, but the SB2 is a 2-in-1 device as it has a touch screen and the screen is detachable and it can be used with a Surface pen things the Macbook Pro can’t do.