You don’t need it, but you might want it any way: Ubiquiti Unifi


The Ubiquiti Networks UniFi products are absolutely worth considering if you’re looking to upgrade your home or small office network to a reasonably affordable, manageable, configurable, and expandable setup.

A complete setup probably costs more than you’re comfortable spending on network infrastructure, but you’re worth it.


There’s a lot of information available generally about this company and their products available on the Internet. I won’t attempt to do a 15-25 page Ars Technica style expose on the details. Instead, I’ll focus on the features that I’ve been using and the some highs and lows of the product experience.

Lesson 1

Cloud keyI made the mistake of installing the controller software on a laptop first. I hadn’t understood that for maximal data logging and the best management experience, it’s best if it’s installed on a server or workstation that is available 24×7. I decided the ideal option is the Ubiquiti Cloud Key was the most effective choice. Low power, no moving parts, plug and play. The cloud software uses a bunch of software like Java that you may not want to install on your server or shared workstation, so take my advice and include one in your budget for a robust Ubiquiti setup. There are instructions available for installation on a Raspberry Pi if you’re so inclined to go it on your own tiny hardware.

I will say that I’ve needed to reboot the device/software a few times over the past few months, but it’s been generally very stable. I’m not sure what caused the issue. So, make sure you don’t tuck this away so far you can’t unplug and restart it if necessary.


I live in a larger house and when we built it I had 4 ethernet jacks installed in nearly every room. Rather than try to determine which jacks had equipment installed, I’ve always had every jack wired for ethernet to a series of network switches. So, for the Ubiquiti equipment, I bought 3 Ubiquiti US-24 managed switches. These switches don’t support power over ethernet, so if you’re considering it, you’ll need to upgrade to the more expensive US-24 250W.  Not wanting to connect the switches with a boring Ethernet cable, I opted for several sets of the fiber connections, the Ubiquiti Networks UF-MM-1G. Compared to the overall setup price, these and the corresponding fiber cable is inexpensive. By using the fiber connection, none of the ethernet ports were used as interconnects.

Patch Cables


I took it as an opportunity to recable the patch panel connection terminals as well with what is now my favorite network cable, the Monoprice SlimRun Ethernet 6A patch cable. As my new setup was about double the length from where I’d mounted two network switches in the past, new cables were necessary. I bought a few different colors to indicate types of connections …, but the result was so pleasing…, just a nice manageable bundle of cables. It felt almost organized vs. a cabling nightmare. These cables are more expensive and the boot is 50-100% longer than typical patch cables. So, be sure that you have room to accommodate them, especially if you’re using a patch panel. My patch panel with these cables isn’t a perfect fit, but I made it work.

I picked colors based on cable prices. There’s a variety of colors and it seems if you buy them on Amazon that they vary quite a lot in price depending on the color and length combination. Blue and a gray were the least expensive when I purchased. I bought some orange to indicate “interconnects” (between managed switches) and “red” to indicate a power over Ethernet style connection or other critical infrastructure.

Software Defined Networking

I’ve explored quite a few networking switches, routers, firewalls, SOHO devices, custom firmware, including consumer, prosumer, and professional models over the years. There have been a lot of highs and lows. I used various open source routers for many years with a “Tomato” based firmware replacement (on various pieces of hardware). While it was generally very stable and had a number of useful features, it wasn’t fun anymore (and new features useful to me weren’t being added). I wanted to try something new.

My first attempt was Google’s OnHub and later I added a more complete Google’s Wifi setup. Admittedly, I bought in too early. The Google Wifi was missing a lot of features from the Tomato firmware (and other competitive products). But, over a period of 18 months, it reached a reasonable feature parity (and exceeded in several cases). Most of the functionality was easy to use. I liked the setup well enough that I bought one for my father’s house so I can help him when he’s having trouble. It’s been rock solid for 9+ months for him with no unplanned reboots needed. If you read reviews of Google Wifi, make sure the reviews are recent, as there was a lot of people that bought it too early, and then complained LOUDLY when they realized that it didn’t have the features they wanted (even though Google hadn’t mentioned them in marketing literature — there was just an expectation that it would have an identical or better feature set).

My biggest issue was that I have a number of Internet of Things devices that just wouldn’t work with the Google Wifi. Several of the devices in my house still require 2.4Ghz connections and couldn’t successfully negotiate with Google Wifi. So, I had to strategically place a few older 2.4Ghz routers around my house to provide service to the older devices. Honestly, it was workable, but sucked from a configuration and reliability perspective. I’m sure I didn’t have the frequencies adequately arranged and there were likely constant conflicts.

Ultimately, I decided that I wanted a setup that would allow me to have more control over my network without needing multiple Wifi access points around to service both new and old devices. I also really wanted a web based portal for configuration. Google Wifi is only through an Android or iPhone app (there isn’t even an app that takes advantage of an iPad’s larger screen — it’s simply a scaled iPhone app).

In the prosumer price point, Ubiquiti hardware seems to lead the pack. They have lines for consumer as well, but I wanted the middle ground option.

Their Software

Given that their solution is built to provide a software defined networking stack, I’ll walk you through a bit of the experience from my perspective.

Firstly, I mentioned I had some experience with a number of hardware and firmware options. The easiest to use overall was Google Wifi. The hardest is a race to the bottom, many of the options blur together in my memory to form a perfectly awful experience. Ubiquiti can never be as simple to use as Google Wifi — they just are not in the same markets nor are the features comparable. That being said, I’m remarkably competent using the Ubiquiti Cloud Controller software. Thankfully Ubiquiti has seriously good documentation for many real world scenarios that you might want to use. Some of the documentation is a bit out of date, but the core is generally still accurate and gets the job done.

For example, it took about 10 minutes to setup a robust L2TP/IPSec VPN service so that I could connect from my devices back to my home network. It’s great as it’s supported on iOS and Windows 10 out of the box.

I’d never had a virtual LAN setup in a useful way in our house before. I’d tried, but it was always very limited and only functioned with a select group of Wifi connected devices. Now I can configure VLANs both for physical connections and for wifi connections. For example, in the photo above, there’s a red cable on the right side that connects to a PoE (externally powered) security camera (I use red to indicate it’s a special connection). I’d read enough scary things about cheaper IP based security cameras that I decided to sandbox it entirely. My security camera software can access it directly, but the camera can’t access other devices on the network.

Distrusted IOT VLAN

There are actually two reasonable ways of putting in a VLAN. As a device, or via a specific port. As shown above, I’ve chosen to associate the device with the Distrusted IOT VLAN explicitly. Otherwise, I could have selected a port and placed it in the desired profile (again, the Distrusted IOT profile as shown below).Ports Port Profile

Configuration of a Virtual LAN

As with many things in the Ubiquiti Cloud Controller software, it’s only a few straightforward steps. Below, I’ve added a Network called Distrusted IOT and assigned it the VLAN identifier of 100.

On the settings page for the new VLAN, I’ve specified the ID (100), I gave it a custom gateway/subnet (for example, you could use, provided a custom domain name, DHCP Server and a DHCP range. To prevent rogue DHCP servers, I’ve also enabled DHCP guarding. As I wanted to lock this one down, I’ve disabled UPnP LAN support. I’ve found that some devices need IGMP snooping to work correctly, so I did enable it. It’s up to you.

Configuration of VLANFinally, I added a Firewall WAN Traffic rule (Settings > Routing & Firewall > Firewall > WAN OUT). Click [+ CREATE NEW RULE]

Firewall WLAN


  • name it (like Block All IOT WAN TRAFFIC)
  • enable it
  • select that it runs Before predefined rrules
  • Action: Drop
  • IPv4 Protocol: All
  • Advanced
    • Enable Logging (optional)
    • IPSec: Don’t match
  • Source:
    • Source Type: Network
    • Pick the VLAN you created earlier (like Distrusted IOT)
  • Destination
    • Address Port/Group
      • Group: Any
      • Port: Any

Now, the security camera is isolated on it’s own distrusted network, but my security camera software can still access it by IP address. Beautiful. I have the POWER! (Use your imagination to picture He-man right now!).


As a resident of rural Wisconsin, I find the insight functionality of “neighboring access points” far more fascinating than I probably should. Seriously. The nearest neighbor is 300 foot (100m) away and the nearest secondary road is about 1200 foot (365m). I presume some of these are phones and cars — but the fact that Ubiquiti catches these and logs these is tremendously interesting.

Neighboring Access Points

Static IP

It’s thankfully easy to configure fixed IP addresses. Select Clients, click on the device you want to configure, select the Configuration tab, click “Use fixed IP address” and then type in the IP Address.



Upgrading a Ubiquiti device is stupidly simple.

When logging in, you’ll see a notice that one more more devices has firmware updates available. After navigating to the Devices tab, you’ll see the word UPGRADE next to any of the devices that has an upgrade available. Click upgrade and a confirmation shows (by default) and a second click later, the process begins. Minor updates take a few minutes at most.

Of course, there’s a little downtime when the device reboots, so plan accordingly. I applaud the developers for making this so painless. I don’t need to find a SUPPORT link and DOWNLOAD link on their web site, carefully match hardware revisions, find the correct update given the devices current patch level, download a binary gzipped file and use a crappy uploader to install the firmware. It’s one or two clicks.


The dashboard looks great. I don’t find it very useful though. It’s not “real time” enough to satisfy my needs. In particular, I’d like real-time throughput of download and upload. There are a LOT of folks that bought the hardware expecting the functionality. I however, had done sufficient research to know it didn’t exist. So, my expectations were set properly. Their forums mention it a lot, but it hasn’t gotten traction. Don’t hold your breath until it shows up.


Missing Features

Here are some things I’d like to see added:

  • A better live view of what devices are using an unfair share of Internet. I mentioned this already, but there’s not a way to at a glance see all known clients and their current usage. In fact, there’s not a way to reliably do it all. The Edge Router series apparently has it, but it won’t integrate with the controller, so you may not want that combination.
  • A way to shape traffic live, and demote or promote specific devices for a length of time (or maybe indefinitely)
  • A method to limit a class/network of devices to a maximum total amount of bandwidth (for example, all IoT devices limited to .25Mb of upload traffic). You can limit a class of devices to each have a specific bandwidth cap, but it’s applied individually rather than as a group.
  • A few wizards for common workflows.
  • The setup and configuration for the UniFi Security Gateway feels out of place — while it’s part of the overall system, it requires love and attention on its own, which is confusing at first, and later, and later….

Final Thoughts

Even though the product has a few warts and missing features, I’m generally very happy with the hardware and software. Like many things reviewed, not everyone’s experience has been like mine, but of course, many people with successful installations don’t bother talking about it. It’s the people with problems that are often loud. So, make sure you temper what you may read in forums with a healthy dose of reality. The product does work and can work very successfully if you properly manage expectations and use it in the manner in which it was designed.

As of the end of July 2018, I’d recommend their products.

If you’ve found this helpful and are ready to make a purchase, you may of course buy the hardware from various parties on Amazon. As few (if any) are authorized resellers, you may want to opt for one of the few authorized resellers: B&H Photo and Video. As the links are affiliate links and don’t add anything to the cost/price of the purchase, I’d certainly appreciate it if you used them.

Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions, ask away! :)


How to make your too soft Tempur-pedic Bed comfortable

We’d suffered far too long. Our 2 year old Temper-pedic mattress was painful to use.

I couldn’t find a comfortable way to sleep anymore and was tired nearly every day and had too many aches and pains many mornings. My wife complained that her neck hurt frequently and that her shoulders and back were sore. As our Temper-pedic mattress was nearly $2500, we were reluctant to replace it so soon. But, we had to do something. I hated that bed and was dreading trying to sleep at night. The marketing by manufacturers suggests a memory foam mattress nearly to be the fix to every problem you have sleeping. Yeah, sorry. It’s not.

I’d done quite a bit of research and there were several schools of thought.

  1. Buy a new mattress. There’s no fix.
  2. Place something firm under the mattress.
  3. Buy a mattress topper of some type
  4. Crazy ideas…

As a last resort, buying a new mattress remained an option. However, not only did we not want to spend that amount of money again on another mattress, we were uncomfortable with throwing out a mattress that was so new. It hasn’t even developed the slightest hint of wear (there aren’t any sunken spots where we obviously sleep most frequently).

The second option didn’t make much sense given the density of the mattress. While I could see how it could potentially work for traditional box spring mattresses, our mattress didn’t require or need a base. Further, the base our bed rested on was pretty firm anyway. So, I didn’t see much reason to pursue that.

The challenge then was to buy a mattress topper. Was there something that was firm enough that it would mask the overly soft Tempur-pedic bed?

I read so many blogs and advice sites, with no clear answer. The general opinion was that a mattress topper could help, if you bought the right one and it was properly supported. In fact, some people bought toppers and then placed hard rubber mats underneath the topper to help provide a more solid foundation. As I was worried a bit about the off-gassing and smell of that solution, I looked for other options.

After extensive research, we settled on this:

Pure Green 100% Natural Latex Mattress Topper – Firm (3″ King Size)

The king sized topper arrived in a large box, folded once in half, rolled and protected in a thick plastic “bag.” We were careful to not damage the bag when removing the mattress topper in case we needed to return the topper. It did make removing the topper from the bag a bit more work than if I’d carefully sliced the bag open. Thankfully (according to the seller on Amazon), they do accept returns and offer to send a box to return the mattress topper if necessary.

Can I return the topper?

So, after a few minutes on the floor, we hefted it onto the bed. It’s not lightweight, and as it’s extremely flexible, it was more awkward than we would have liked. I’d recommend folding it back in half so it’s easier to lift and move onto your bed. As you shouldn’t need to do this often, I wouldn’t be concerned about the one time lift. If you’re by yourself and trying to place a King sized topper, it may take a few more minutes and some grumbling. It apparently weighs about 65 pounds, so some amount of dragging it into place may be necessary.

Our sheets JUST accommodated the extra height. Just. If the topper had been 4″, the sheets wouldn’t have worked. The topper, while designed for a king was a bit “proud” of the size of the bed and was about 2″ total wider than it needed to be. I’m not sure if that’s normal, but it didn’t affect our sheet fit thankfully. Be prepared to potentially buy new taller sheets.

The first night was a welcome relief, even though the bed was noticeably more firm. We were both worried at first that the topper would still “sink” too much into the Tempur-pedic, but it doesn’t seem too. The next morning, we both felt far more rested and less sore than we had in 6 months. The second night, ahhh. Nice.

Some folks online have said it’s not “firm” enough. As firmness is subjective and personal, I can only say that it’s a comfortable firmness for us. If it were less firm, I’d suspect that it wouldn’t do much good. We’ll probably need to rotate the topper occasionally to prevent sunken/wear spots.

There was zero smell that we could notice both out of the packaging and when placed on the bed. Older reviews mentioned that the latex would crumble some. As ours is new, we haven’t experienced that. If it does, we’ll buy a simple cover for it. The topper is manufactured in many different sizes, from Twin to California King.

If you’re like us, suffering for buying a mattress that’s too soft and doesn’t offer enough support, I’d recommend the mattress topper (or something similar). Of course, it’s a bit risky to buy something like this sight unseen given the price, but as you shop around, make sure there’s a liberal return policy and be willing to return it if it doesn’t work out.

Two weeks later, our only regret is not buying it sooner.  

Other Information

Our current memory-foam Tempur-pedic mattress is of medium softness (we own the TEMPUR-Cloud Prima). I sleep in nearly every way possible, except flat on my back, and my wife sleeps mostly on her back.

An IKEA mattress topper was suggested in a number of forums. As we don’t have a nearby IKEA, we couldn’t evaluate the option in person. While it is an option that IKEA will sell online, the shipping/handling was extremely high to our location and most people said that it would still need another layer of very firm support under the topper. While overall the option may have been less expensive I suppose, it didn’t seem as promising as the option we purchased.

Alternatives to Monopoly: Some table-top board games you should try

In the USA, there are some traditional board games that are commonly found in the closets of many households. The staple board games if you will.

Monopoly comes to mind for example. If you did a survey of 100 adults in the USA to name a board-game, I’d bet Monopoly would be number 1 on the list. Even McDonald’s for years has run various gaming promotions that involved the Monopoly brand. It’s ingrained in the culture. Let’s face it though: Monopoly isn’t for everyone. I think I enjoyed a game one time. But, I’m not sure we actually ever finished the game. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it.

There may be a few games of Monopoly still underway since 1935 when it was released.

Once you get beyond Monopoly, there’s the Scrabbles, Clue, BattleshipRisk, and many more. We had many of those games in our home’s closet until recently. We looked at the stack of games, talked briefly, and donated them all to a local charity. They just don’t hold our interest anymore compared to the modern board game.

As a child I was playing Risk with a cousin …, he got so unhappy with his bad-luck and my good-luck that he threw his dice at me as hard as he could. I hadn’t know I’d be at Risk (!!! :) ) for playing that. There are better games than Risk as far as I’m concerned.

I played Axis and Allies (I think it was that edition) some in college and never got into it. My group of friends played it occasionally for a year or two; I played it very casually. I played more “speed Axis and Allies” and friends played, “give me 20-30 minutes to consider my actions as the WORLD IS AT STAKE HERE.”  That experience turned me off to board games for the most part for a long time.

It’s changed a lot in the last 10 years. There are thousands of great games in a wide variety of genre these days at all price points.

In this post, I’ve included a handful of games which my wife and I consider great transitional games for someone who has tried (and either liked or disliked) the old-traditional board games. I’ve seen some lists recently that contain a few games that I’d definitely not consider transitional or starter games, so I was motivated to build my own list.

Ticket to Ride, Europe

Ticket to Ride Europe, by Days of Wonder, with over 3 million copies sold, is for 2-5 players and works well with 2-4 (I’ve not tried with 5). Games usually take about one hour and a little longer if people are learning to play. It’s stand-alone and does not require a base set (be careful to note that some boxed Ticket to Ride games require a base set to play).

The essential part of the game is that you’re building a hand of cards that eventually can be converted into rail lines for points. Most points at the end wins. It’s learn-able in 5 minutes or so on average and usually takes players a few rounds of play before they’re comfortable with the rules in action.

For my USA based readers, you’ll see that there’s an edition of the United States and you might be inclined to buy that. Buy it if you’re playing with 4 people. But, if you’re playing with fewer people, I’d strongly suggest you try a smaller map, like Europe (as it’s stand-alone). You’ll find that it’s a more competitive game that way as you’ll be likely working to complete the same rail lines as the other players. Europe is great with 4 players.

There are many variations on Ticket to Ride that  you might want to try as well.

What’s great about it is that while you can see the progress of other players, and occasionally unknowingly hinder their progress, it’s not necessarily obvious who will win the game until the end. There’s a bit of mystery as there are special cards called Destination Tickets in this edition of the game that are kept secret until the end of the game and may dramatically affect the score of individual players.



If you aren’t prepared for a game that takes a little longer to learn, Pandemic may not be a good transitional game. You should give this one a chance though.

Assuming you can get through the rules (which admittedly are more complex than those of Monopoly), you’ll enjoy this cooperative game with friends and family (ages 12+ probably is best). Nearly every game I’ve played has ended up as a close win or close loss. You often don’t know right until the end which leads to a lot of enthusiastic and sometimes overly dramatic play by the players (but that’s the fun!). As the pandemics spread across the map, it’s your job as a band of specialists to reduce the spread, find the cure, and possibly eradicate the diseases entirely. The reason that I suggest this game is that it’s a great cooperative game. Everyone MUST play together or YOU WILL LOSE. Most of the games I played as a child were “versus” or team games and so this game was an eye-opener for me. The game plays against us all?

You might choose to ignore the thousands of positive reviews and instead look at the 1-star reviews on Amazon. Don’t. I honestly believe the folks that gave up on the game simply did not give it a fair chance or wanted to not learn it. If after reading the instructions, it’s still not clear, find one of the hundreds of walk-through videos that exist online. Here’s one from the publisher. Here’s another from TableTop where they play through an episode.

Also, until you’re committed to this type of game, do not mistakenly buy Pandemic Legacy. Absolutely, it’s a FUN game; one that requires a commitment of at least 12 plays to finish the game. It’s best played by a group that is consistent from play to play (as it’s telling a story as it goes through so jumping in during the middle of the game won’t be as interesting or as engaging). I’ve only played through June so far, and having the back-story and experience of playing the early episodes is really what makes that game top notch.

Onami from Wyvern Gaming


This is a great reasonably quick game (under 30 minutes). It’s really easy to learn and play. However, Strategy! As you take turns, you place numbered tiles on a grid. Each tile placed then may allow the player to mark one or more other tiles as their own. In the end, it’s the person with the most tiles that win. The challenge is that until the last turn is played, a tile may change owners many times. My wife and I were surprised by this board game that we picked up by chance at Gen Con 2016 in August. (Apparently, it had been a Kickstarter game).

But it direct from Wyvern here for $30.


carcassonneI first played an Android tablet version of this game on a plane with a friend. I’d heard of the game but never played it (digitally or physically). While the rules at first were a bit strange, it only took a few rounds of play to understand the basics.

This is a tile laying game and ideally needs a large space in which to play as there’s not a traditional board like other games. Instead, you’re building the board as you play by laying tiles that represent various aspects of the French countryside. Games take between 30-45 minutes. It’s easy to learn for kids and adults. Make certain you’re not buying an expansion as there are a few.

It’s about $28 on Amazon.




This is a two player game that takes about 20-30 minutes to play and maybe about 5 to learn. Essentially, you take turns choosing various pieces using your buttons (as money) to build the best high scoring quilt. It’s really easy to learn and play but is very strategic. In some ways, it’s like a dynamic Tetris as you try to fit pieces to your board, yet not everything will fit perfectly and in the end may cause you to lose the game! Some apparently have said it’s a puzzle game, but I don’t consider it puzzle-styled at all. It’s luck, strategy, and the skill of your opponent that determines whether you’ll win. (I dislike puzzle games and wouldn’t play it if it were puzzle-oriented).

It’s usually around $22 on Amazon.

Castle Panic


Castle Panic ($20), like Pandemic, is a co-operative game. Everyone wins or loses. The difference here is that there is a player that comes out ahead of the others by score (victory points are counted by how many monsters are slain). It’s considered a tower-defense game. That just means that the monsters are attacking the castle and that it’s your job as a player to defend the tower (castle). Each turn players try to eliminate or push back the various monsters that are making their way to the tower. This could definitely be played by younger kids if you don’t mind that they’re killing orcs and other monsters and that they can do a bit of strategy with their parents or family to think beyond just the current turn.

There are variations like Star Trek Panic ($32) that are also available (and slightly more expensive and have a few more rules that may be too challenging for younger kids).

One Hit Kill


Originally available via Kickstarter, One Hit Kill is easy to play and learn, and just as easy to lose.  We played this with some family earlier this year and they hated and loved it! There are a lot of ways to lose the game and only one way to win. Basically, you’re just trying to build a run of numerically sequenced cards (2,3,4,5 for example) in two different colors. The colors will need to match a special card. Once you’ve matched it, Win. The entire rules are explained on the page I linked above. It’s that easy.

It’s available direct via the publisher here.

10 Days in Africa


For two to four players, this quick game will challenge you to build a route between various countries in Africa. You’ll need to take a creative route that starts in one country and using land, water, and air travel plots a successful route to a final country. The rules and game play are simple. Plays in less than 30 minutes. My nine-year old nephew understood the game and the rules, but was stressed by the planning that was required (as he couldn’t see all of the options that might be available to him). So, consider it possibly better for slightly older children if they’re playing against older kids or adults.

Of course, there are other countries, like USA, Europe, Asia, and the Americas available. You may have to hunt around for a copy of any of them though which is disappointing.

And Many many more!

Don’t be afraid to look around. Amazon has literally tens of thousands of board game listings. Seriously.

Also, find your local board game store and stop by. HOWEVER, if you’ve never been to the board game store, make sure you call ahead or look at their website to confirm they have a variety of board game options. (Some cater to wargaming rather than board-gaming). My wife and I, when we visit a new city in the USA, always try to find a few local board game stores and stop in and buy a few small games to play on our vacation (and spread the board game love I guess a little). We’ve met some really interesting people doing that and gone to a few stores that were unique to say the least (one in particular where we developed a case of claustrophobia walking through the overly packed and stacked boxes and aisles. Two people couldn’t fit down an aisle and it felt like it was all going to tumble on our heads!).

You can also use the web site Board Game, but for those new to board games, I’d suggest you stick to Amazon and your local stores. While it has a lot of great information, it’s often a bit intense for newcomers. :)

I had a few more games that I’d intended to add here, but now that I search for them on the Internet, I see that they’re no longer published and they’re all hard to obtain. While you might enjoy the challenge of spending hours tracking down a copy, I’d suggest you buy a different board game and play that instead. So, I’m not going to list them today.

Some of the best games tend to be available on Amazon and are well reviewed by hundreds and thousands of people.

(Next , I’ll create a post with some of the cooperative games that I’ve enjoyed playing with my wife and friends and family).

Comments and feedback welcome!

Geek gift ideas 2016

If you’re looking to buy yourself, I mean someone else some gifts for the upcoming holiday season, here are some items that I’ve found useful or handy around the house. It’s all stuff that I use and would recommend.

KMASHI 400A Peak 14.8V 800mAh Compact Car Jump Starter

It’s around $40. Our cars normally start without issue. Occasionally however, we’ve had a dead battery in an inopportune time or location and needed to call someone for a jump. Now, rather than carrying a giant jump battery in the car, we carry this.

More frequently, I use it to jump start our riding lawn tractor that often has a depleted battery (that I’ve not been able to successfully troubleshoot). I’ve had this for more than a year and used it more than 6 times without any trouble (thankfully, I haven’t needed it more than that). The convenience of it is awesome. It’s so small! Of course, it can also be used as just a USB charger. It charges with an included micro-USB cable.

Tripp Lite 1 Outlet Portable Surge Protector/Suppressor with Timer

Many Li-ion battery chargers for outdoor equipment do not recommend leaving the battery charging at all times. So, I bought this simple single outlet surge protector and timer combination from Tripp Lite.

It costs about $22. I plug a power strip into it and the chargers into the power strip and generally set it to 3 hours if I’ve used the battery powered equipment for very long. At the end of 3 hours, it automatically turns the power off (and to the entire strip) so I don’t need to worry about whether the batteries have charged too long.

Wago 221-413 LEVER-NUTS 3 Conductor Compact Connectors 50 PK

I didn’t know these existed until a year ago. While they’re a luxury item for sure, they make common electrical connections painless (for me at least). I’m sure some of you swear by the old traditional wire-nut. But, after I tried these, I’ll never go back. They make them in a few configurations that are worth looking into.


The price varies depending on what type you buy, but they average between 20 to 50 cents each.

I’ve used a lot of the 2 conductor version.

Bike Peddler Take A Look Cycling Eyeglass Mirror

Almost 1500 reviews on Amazon and nearly an average of 5 stars. These things are great. I’ve had one for 3+ years and if you wear glasses and ride a bike and haven’t liked whatever mirror option you currently use, … I love these. They’re simple and effective.

They’re around $12 usually (and you shouldn’t need to pay more than that).

Planet Bike Blinky “3H” 3-Led Rear Bicycle Light with Self Leveling Helmet Mount

PlanetBike Blinky 3H

Bike safety is very important to me. And it should be for you too. This novel little light attaches securely to the rear of your bike helmet and self levels so that it’s always pointing vertically in a reasonable direction. While you could attach it to your bike, there are better and brighter lights available for your bike that I’d recommend instead. Use this as a secondary bike light. It’s lightweight. I don’t notice its there. It’s about $20.

GMS Optical Premium Grade Comfortable Silicone Anti-slip Holder for Glasses, Ear Hook, Eyeglass Temple Tip

If you have sports glasses (I’ve got a pair of prescription Adidas sports glasses for example), you may have situations where you’d like to have a bit more confidence that your glasses aren’t going to hurtle off your face at some point due to unexpected motion, sweat, etc. I’d tried some of the bands that attach to glasses and found them distracting, especially when riding my bike (either too loose or too tight). These simple and inexpensive (around $6) holders give me the confidence to wear my glasses in situations where I was concerned about them falling off my face.

This was especially true while riding my bicycle. When I was looking down while riding (even for a moment to look at the GPS, etc.), I often had the distinct feeling that my glasses were sliding off my face. On hotter days, this was exacerbated by perspiration. No more! While I wouldn’t be brave (or dumb) enough to think that these would hold my glasses on while riding a loop on a modern roller-coaster, they perform well enough for more typical day-to-day sports. As you’ll see from their ratings, I’m not the only person that likes them.

They’re under $6.

Shacke Hidden Travel Belt Wallet w/ RFID Blocker

When traveling internationally, my wife and I always carry our passports on us while out and about (I know that some people leave them in the hotel room). I’ve tried a few different ways to carry my passport over the years, and this is my current favorite discrete carrying option. It’s lightweight and fits well in the front of one of your legs. Occasionally, you’ll notice it, but it’s not distracting. It’s got room for a few more things, but it’s not intended to carry everything; just stuff you don’t frequently need. I put spare cash, a paper map, and often our ATM card inside. Apparently, there were/are gray wallets of this, but unless you have a gray belt, it will show. By the way, this definitely requires that you wear a belt and is about $16.

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II (Black)

I’m sure many of you have decided that your phone takes great pictures and that’s all that you need. Fine. I accept that you’re missing out. OK, seriously. Your smart phone probably does take some great pictures. But, some images just can’t be captured by your smart phone. Occasionally, you’ll be able to walk closer to something you want to capture to emulate “zoom”, but often, you’ll find that the picture you captured isn’t the way you remembered it. This is where a nice point-and-shoot + more camera comes into play. I’ll take pictures when I’m on vacation with both this camera and my smart phone. I’m not going to bore you with a long list of features. That’s available on the web.

Here’s why I bought this model:

  • RAW mode + JPEG
  • Touch screen (tap to take a picture)
  • Size / weight
  • Pop-up flash
  • Good battery life (definitely buy spare batteries though)
  • Good bokeh (for a point-and-shoot)
  • 24-100mm zoom. Means I can take adjust zoom.
  • Can attach to my tripod (or mini-tripod) and my Really Right Stuff equipment
  • Easy to adjust f-stop/aperture, etc.

It’s by no means an inexpensive camera. However, I do not foresee any reason I’ll want or need to replace it any time soon. So, for now, I consider it a long term camera.

I would strongly recommend you buy a backup battery, regardless of the camera you choose. I bought some cheaper replacement batteries, not from Canon. I bought the DSTE NB-13L batteries. I bought 2 for 50% of the price of a Canon OEM battery. I’ll warn you, as does the camera when it detects these the first time, that these are not Canon batteries. You’ll need to acknowledge a warning that they are not Original Canon Batteries. They work fine though and I’ve not noticed any significant difference from the standard Canon batteries. They last a reasonable amount of time. Some combinations of extra batteries include an extra charger. Having lost a charger on my last trip to Finland, I was glad I’d brought a spare along.

Also, so that I could use a quick release plate with my Really Right Stuff tripod ballhead, I bought a quick release L plate from Desmond. (I usually buy from Really Right Stuff, but they didn’t have a great inexpensive option for this camera).

The model I bought fits the camera very well and is easy to attach and remove. It does make flipping the screen around more of a challenge, but I accept that limitation and rarely is it an issue (as I can always remove the L plate quickly).

SUNWAYFOTO Table Top Mini Aluminum Tripod T1A10 Tabletop Sunway

I attach my Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ballhead to this little tripod. It works really well.

It’s about $35 and fits nearly anywhere (from a small bag to a large pocket). I find a spot usually on a table, nature (like a rock), etc., snap the camera to it, and take a few pictures. It’s really handy and I take it on all trips where I take a camera other than my smart phone.

AmazonBasics Thermal Laminator

This $22 laminator is great. I had no idea how useful this would be. We bought it initially to protect a bunch of table-top board game cheat sheets we’d made or copied. We print them out on our inkjet on regular paper and then laminate them in a 3 mil thermal laminating pouch. The laminator takes 4-5 minutes to warm up at first so there’s no instant gratification that comes with it’s use. Once it heats though, you can feed sheets in with nearly wild abandon (there’s no reason to wait between sheets). In addition to the cheat sheets, we’ve protected copies of important travel and legal documents, copies of instructions (often that we want to hang near the equipment like our furnace or water filtration system). I’ve made small signs and placards for various events and even cleaning instructions for a few things around our house. The laminating pouches are often found in 3 and 5 mil. The 5 mil sheets are very thick and we don’t use them nearly as often.

I’ve also found that using our paper trimmer for items smaller than a full page works really well (rather than trying to cut with scissors). We’ve got something like this (although not this exact one as I can’t find the model we have). Just buy something with replacement blades in case they dull.

And, I just blogged about it a week ago, the Ecobee ecobee3 thermostat is also on my list.

Next time, I’ll post about some table top board games I’ve enjoyed recently.

Changing password requirements in Linux Subsystem for Windows (or Bash on Ubuntu on Windows)

While I understand the reasoning, it’s a bit annoying needing to set a secondary password in the Bash on Ubuntu on Windows instance. If you’re on a domain joined computer, or occasionally update your password like you should, there’s a reasonable chance that the password you use for Bash is different than the one you use for general access to your PC. In fact, it’s probably likely.

Since I have a number of Windows boxes I frequently use, I wanted to create a password that while different from machine to machine, would be easy to remember (and not the same from machine to machine). However, the password I’d wanted to use didn’t always meet the default password requirements.

So, here’s what I did. From the Bash prompt, I first tried to change the password to see if my new password met the complexity and length requirements. If your password works, there’s no more to do!

$ passwd


(current) UNIX password:
Enter new UNIX password:
Retype new UNIX password:
You must choose a longer password

OK. So, I needed to change the requirements. I used the editor nano.

$ cd /etc/pam.d/
$ sudo nano common-password

To save the file, use CTRL+O to write out changes, hit ENTER, then CTRL+X to Exit.

Look for the line:

password        [success=1 default=ignore]    obscure sha512

And replace it with (I removed obscure and added minlen=1):

password        [success=1 default=ignore] sha512 minlen=1

Now, try changing the password again using passwd.

$ passwd
Changing password for aaron.
(current) UNIX password:
Enter new UNIX password:
Retype new UNIX password:
passwd: password updated successfully


Hopefully I’ll remember to look here the next time I set up Windows and Bash on Ubuntu on Windows (gee, that’s a mouthful!). And more importantly, I won’t encounter this experience again:

$ sudo apt-get update
[sudo] password for aaron:
Sorry, try again.
[sudo] password for aaron:
Sorry, try again.
[sudo] password for aaron:
Sorry, try again.
sudo: 3 incorrect password attempts