Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The trouble with Routers

I'm a Mac guy. Always have been, since ~1985, when I started working with my first original Macintosh, after suffering with the miserable IBM PC that sat on my office desk.

In 2009 (about 8 years ago), I purchased an Apple Time Capsule as my combination router, WiFi base station and back-up hard drive.
My old beast
Apple uses Time Machine technology, built into the operating system, to do back-ups seamlessly in the background. I've pulled back ups off my system from time to time. Back-ups are good. The Time Capsule offered beautiful back-up integration, so 8 years ago, was an awesome choice.

But as a router, my Time Capsule now leaves something to be desired. It doesn't support fast WiFi protocols like 802.11ac, it only supported 802.11n, and only in draft form. The antennas are internal, and in my weird house, that means several WiFi dead zones and weak spots.

The 1 TB hard drive in it has been spinning for ~70,000 hrs. Apple alleged that the hard drive in it was "server grade" but it was in fact a Western Digital drive that never had a published MTBF for it. And the downside with the integrated drive was that it was impossible to make bigger.

When I upgraded the drive in my MacBook Pro to 1 TB, I got a 2 TB external drive just for it's backups, and connected it to the USB 2 port on the Time Capsule. That slowed the backups, but at least it freed up space.

In the spring of 2017, Apple announced that not only would they stop making Time Capsules, but they were getting out of the router business entirely. They "orphaned" the whole product line (which was last updated in 2013 anyway), meaning they would no longer provide hardware or software/firmware support for any of it, but they would sell the remaining inventory of Time Capsules off. As I type this, you can still buy them, though I don't know why anyone would.

I finally decided to replace the Time Capsule this fall to get better WiFi in the house. I bought a new 2 TB external drive to make up for the loss of the 1 TB drive in the Time Capsule. Following Apple's instructions, I transferred backups from the Time Capsule to the new 2 TB drive -- which took ~16 hrs. Not a hard process, but certainly a slow one, even using an ethernet cable to connect my laptop with the Time Capsule.

And I bought a new router.

The C7
After searching many, many sites, recommendations kept popping up for the TP-Linck Archer C7 as a "perfect" replacement for the router in the Time Capsule. It had 2 USB ports, which I figured would be perfect for the 2 external hard drives for back up.

After buying it on-line from Best Buy at a good Black Friday sale, and setting it up, I discovered...

The Archer C7 does not work with Time Machine.

The C7 does not support the hard drive format that Apple requires for a drive used for Time Machine. So while I could plug the drives in, the router would not recognize them (I searched again and found exactly ONE page where this was mentioned in a review).


So I went on TP-Link's site, and searched. After much searching, I found on this page there are only 3 models of routers that TP-Link makes that do support Time Machine.

  • Archer C9 V4 in the US & the Archer C9 V5 in Europe;
  • Archer C1900 V2, and
  • Archer C8 V4
Back on-line I went (you can't buy these things in a store where I live). I ordered a C1900 from Amazon.

Router #2, the C1900
I received it this morning, and connected it up. But... it turns out there are 4 hardware versions of the C1900, and ONLY the v2 hardware version supports Time Machine and my external drives.

I received the v1 hardware version model. Nowhere on Amazon's site is the hardware version number mentioned. It can't be determined from the product ID. I called TP-Link; the hardware version is marked on the box (which you can't see when you buy on-line).

Hardware version number circled
I searched about 6 on-line stores that sell TP-Link products; NONE show the hardware versions for any TP-Link product -- including the store on the TP-Link site!

On the (very small) bright side, Amazon offers free returns.

So I'm back looking. I suspect I will try to avoid TP-Link products and try to find something from Netgear, LynkSys or D-Link that will work. Either that, or I have to figure out a way to see the physical box of the TP-Link router before I buy it.

My learnings so far:
  • Replacing a Time Capsule is not straightforward; incomplete information abounds on many websites;
  • I do NOT recommend TP-Link products as replacements for a Time Capsule. You need to get VERY precise with their product identification, and run a very high risk of getting the wrong one. Only buy a TP-Link if you can see the box before buying;
  • TP-Link is very poor at offering information regarding Time Machine compatibility with their routers. The grand total information is available on this one FAQ page;
  • Many, many on-line articles regarding Time Capsule replacements mention nothing about hard drive compatibility with non-Apple routers. Do your research. For instance, in the D-Link line, only the DIR-880L router offers Time Machine support, but not actually through Time Machine. Only the Asus RT-AC68U is Time Machine compatible. Many Netgear routers are compatible; see their list here -- but all that do are pricy.
  • The C7 is a fine router. It offered very good WiFi coverage in my house with no dead zones and an excellent signal to noise ratio. But it does NOT support Time Machine functionality, so is NOT a Time Capsule replacement.
  • A search for "non-Apple wireless routers that support Time Machine" is a poor search to do. Most of the pages you'll find are useless and only talk about people attempting to make a non-compatible router work.
Post Script:

I gave TP-Link one last try. I ordered a TP-Link Archer C8 on line from The Source. It was delivered to my local store, where I was able to see the box and verify that it was hardware version 3, not version 4, so was able to process a refund on the spot.

So I started my search again. I went through all the websites for the big router companies. I looked at specific user manuals for pretty much every AC1600, 1750, 2300 or 2600 class router the company had. Here's what I found:

  • D-Link: Really unclear, but after checking model after model and reading the instruction manuals and spec sheets, decided to pass. Near as I could tell, all D-Link routers need to use something called the D-Link SharePort utility to access connected hard drives. Pass.
  • Asus: Was only able to confirm that the RT-AC68U would work with Time Machine, and it's a really expensive router. They may have others, but I couldn't prove it. Pass.
  • Amped Wireless: Could not confirm compatibility of any of their routers with Time Machine or HFS+ (Mac OS Extended Journaled) formatted drives. Their website doesn't even talk about Mac compatibility. Pass.
  • LinkSys: Basically states on the website (if you search hard enough) that all their routers work with Time Machine/HFS+ formatted external drives -- then doesn't mention Macs again in any user manual. I liked the EA6400, EA6900 and EA7500, all of which are either AC1600 or 1900 class. Tempted.
  • NetGear: I was able to confirm on this page the list of NetGear routers that would work with Time Machine. That's many, but not all, of the routers NetGear makes. I didn't even look at any of the WNDR class routers, as they are all 802.11n speed. I was torn between the R6250, R6400 and R7000 models, which are AC1600, 1750 and 1900 speed, respectively  A really good Boxing Day sale caused me to order the R6400, an AC1750 class router. The user manual for it I saw on-line takes 3 pages to explain how to set it up with Time Machine. Cost was $130. I could have had the R6250 for $100 on a Boxing Day sale (Time Machine also covered in it's user manual), but opted for the higher speed of the R6400.
The Bottom Line:

If you want to replace a TimeCapsule and keep using Time Machine, I recommend looking at routers from NetGear (who actually recognize Macs exist and talk about them), or LinkSys (who just build in Mac compatibility and then ignore Mac users). Plug in a good quality external hard drive to the USB 3 port and you should be in business. In the end, my router was $130 and my 2 Tb external drive $80, so $210 puts you back in business -- as opposed to $400 for an orphaned but brand new 2 TB Airport Extreme base station.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Bathroom Reno, Day Zero

Since we moved in 6 years ago, we have REALLY wanted to renovate our master bathroom, and rid the master bedroom of the carpet that was stained with years of the previous owner's dog pee. In January of this year, we said we were going to do it in 2017. In March, we set a plan to do it in June during the summer. In June, we committed to making it happen in August. On August 15th, we bought our first parts -- hardwood for the bedroom (which isn't really a part of a bathroom reno, but hey, it was a start).

Buying the hardwood in August kicked us into actual reno mode. We started to buy other stuff, from taps to a heated towel rack to cabinets to medicine cabinets to door handles to a toilet; and we picked tile for the walls and the floor.

We contacted our contractor, Bogdan. We love our Bogdan; he's awesome. We actually contacted him in March, and his input caused us to take a step back and regroup. We finally reconnected with him in late August (after we bought the hardwood) and said "we're ready to go". That started the buying frenzy of more parts, and a plan to start in late September.

A week later, Bogdan broke his elbow doing jumps in a mountain bike terrain park with his young son (these things happen where I live).
His fluoroscope. 2 screws, 2 pins and a knitting needle of wire
Bogdan is awesome; he texted that image to me on the way home from the hospital, noting "our project might be delayed a bit".

We continued to buy stuff while he continued to heal. We had spent from March to August looking for JUST the right bathtub. We picked it in June, and put it out of our minds. In our August meeting with Bogdan, we showed him our tub choice, and discussed how to build it in. He noted it would be a challenge.

We looked at local supply where we could. The quartz countertop for our cabinets was quoted by a local supplier at $2,200 plus delivery and installation. We sourced virtually the same countertop out of Calgary for $850 plus $220 for measuring, cutting and delivery. The cabinets themselves we found for $2,500 in town; we paid $825 for them in Calgary, plus the cost for Bogdan to assemble and install them. We bought our toilet, hardwood, floor and wall tile locally. We got our taps from national suppliers on-line. We got our sinks from Rona for 40% less that we could buy them in town. We bought Ikea medicine cabinets.

The cabinets were entertaining. We got them from Calgary Cabinets Depot. The fellow helping us was helpful and knowledgeable but very chatty. We ordered them (took 2 hrs to order 3 cabinets; did I mention he was chatty?) then found out a few weeks later the order was priced (and paid for) at vanity height and depth, but was ordered at kitchen height & depth (which is what we wanted). This caused a bit of a kerfuffle, and interestingly, the fellow who helped us is no longer with the company.

Calgary Cabinet Depot also had a "perfect" accent tile. We took pictures and got details. With that, we were trying to finalize our tile layout and design when Karen asked a simple question about measurements. This led to an agonizing few hours on the computer scale drawings, and resulted in the realization that...


Yikes. This spawned a week of panic looking for alternatives. The bathtub we picked cost ~$1,000. We found one for $2,100 (plus delivery) that would have worked.

We met with Bogdan again, and based on his advice visited Calgary (again) a few weeks ago to look at bathtubs. We picked one that was close to what we wanted (but not quite) but only cost $890, and ordered it. Bogdan said he would start when the tub was a week away.

We found out last Wednesday that week is now; Bogdan comes tomorrow. Then, last Thurdsay, we picked up our cabinets and tried to order our "perfect" accent tile. And found out it's no longer made in 3"x12" (which is what we need), but only comes in 12"x12" sheets. Based on the tile's design, it's tough to cut well. Yikes. Now what? Karen is now looking at what alternatives we have; we need it in about 2 weeks.

So because Bogdan is here bright and early tomorrow, we spent all day today emptying the bathroom and the bedroom, moving stuff to the basement for temporary storage, moving ourselves into the spare bedroom, and re-arranging the furniture so Bogdan and his team would have space to come and go.

The bathroom today
Looking forward to getting rid of the ugly plastic medicine cabinet 
A new door is part of the project, and the toilet will be replaced and change locations 
The grout is falling out of this ugly, unlevel floor. Good riddance. 
The bedroom is empty. The mattress frame temporarily stays.
The ugly stained and wrinkled carpet is a goner 
The new will be so much better
I will update regularly with progress,. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Dog sitting

I love dogs. I grew up with a wonderful (fat) beagle and a basset, her best friend from down the street. But I learned a long time ago I don't have a lifestyle for a dog (I barely have a lifestyle for a cat that doesn't like me) so don't have a dog of my own.

I tell people "I love dogs, but don't have one, so I just have to pet other people's puppies". Karen will tell you I cross streets to say hi to puppies.

This past weekend, I got to babysit a puppy. It's a bit hard to call Cholo a puppy; he's ~10 (?) and weighs at least 80 lbs. He's a bit of a gentle giant; he's a retired avalanche rescue dog, so really well trained and just a big and strong teddy bear.

He loves walks. He gets 4 a day, so I was up at the crack of dawn daily and out late every night. At least one of his walks is at least an hour long, so I got long wanders in the forest around my house.

Cholo checks out the creek 
Happy puppy 
Cholo poses on the hillside
On Friday, I learned that Grizzly Bear 164 was just west of my house, right where I was planning on walking Cholo that afternoon. Then a lady who power walks the neighbourhood every day told me she had seen 2 bears that day; 164 and a black bear. Cholo is an experienced outdoor mountain dog, and I was told if a bear is nearby, he would just sit down and stop walking. That happened twice on Friday and twice again on our Saturday walks.

Inside, Cholo is the most polite dog you'll ever meet. When I cooked, he was either laying in the middle of the kitchen (a bit of a tripping hazard, but he's big enough to notice)...
Yes, he crosses his legs when he lays down
...or just on the side of it.
Out of the way
I was told that he would bug me to go for evening walks around 7:30 each night; the photo above was Thursday at 7:30. Not quite the "pest" I was led to believe. He never really bothered us when it was his dinner time or when he wanted to go out.

Cholo likes being at your feet with you wherever you are, but he really likes being up on the bed or chesterfield with you, though he "asks" first and never just jumps up.
Asking me to let him join me for breakfast in bed
He most definitely likes to cuddle, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't think he's as big as he is.
Happy next to me 
Now happy next to Karen
I was pretty tired on Saturday afternoon. I rarely nap but I sure felt like one, so lay down on the couch -- and got a nap helper.
Two problems: he weighs 80 lbs. And he fidgets.
We had a lot of fun with Cholo this weekend, but never did see any bears.

On the other hand, my cat hated it. Cholo really doesn't care about cats, and basically paid no attention to Jello. Cholo never tried to eat Jello's food (though he did drink the cats water from time to time). But Jello barely slept, basically stopped eating, and spent three days in hiding (and probably abject terror, for whatever his reasons), running away whenever Cholo was near. Now Cholo is gone, Jello's not speaking to us (and he's catching up on his sleep).

Sunday, 9 July 2017

3 Days in Jasper: Waterfalls, glaciers and the trip home

Our initial plan for our last day was to do the Cavell Meadows hike, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, that hike is closed due to a bear frequenting the area. So instead we decided to play tourist and poke at some view hotspots while heading home.

After a leisurely breakfast with, and goodbye to, my daughter, stop 1 was Pyramid Island about 2 km from Pyramid Lake Resort. Pyramid Mountain, and the other mountains in the area, were nicely reflected in the still morning water.
The island on the right 
The Whistlers, Muhigan Mountain and others
While we were waiting for my daughter to go hiking the previous day, we heard but didn't see loons. A mom and dad and two chicks were, this morning, hanging around Pyramid Island.
Mom and the kids 
Dad about to dive 
Mom in the sun 
Hanging around 
Colourful reflections
The family that swims together...
After a quick stop in Jasper, we puttered down the 93A (which REALLY needs re-paving) to Athabasca Falls.
Mt Kerkeslin and the Athabasca River 
The lip of the falls 
Looking downstream through the slot canyon 
The falls were churnin' 
A lot of water, from the other side 
"Somewhere, over the rainbow..." 
The 93A and footbridges cross the canyon 
Just downstream of the falls. All that water came through the slot 
The colourful peak of Kerkeslin.
We saw American Dippers and Myrtle Warblers getting at the bugs near the lip of the falls.
Mr. Warbler after a successful bug hunt
We stopped at the Goats and Glaciers viewpoint but there were no goats. There were really no glaciers, either, but lots of evidence of past glaciation.
Aretes, moraines and hanging valleys on Mt. Geraldine
We then stopped at Sunwapta Falls.
Not at big but just as much fun 
Yet another slot canyon that leads to another falls
At this point it was lunch time, so we wanted to picnic somewhere on our way south. A picnic area marked on our map (Bubbling Springs) has been decommissioned, though we should have stopped to see the now unmarked springs. Getting hungrier and hungrier, it tuns out there's basically no place to stop for a picnic between Sunwapta Falls and the Columbia Icefield. We finally pulled off at the Stutfield Glacier viewpoint which was marked as a picnic spot; there was one table and hoards of tourists.
The Stutfield, which comes off the Columbia Ice Sheet at the top
The left side
The Stutfield is interesting because as ice comes down it and falls off, it re-connects with ice below and re-forms as another glacier that's ~1.5 km long in the valley below.

We pause at an unnamed pullout to gawk at the various glaciers around the icefield, and watch the throngs of tourists without entering the parking lot.
Dome Glacier
Close up of the Dome 
The unnamed glacier on Mt. Athabasca  
The Sunwapta River comes off the Athabasca Glacier 
Two groups out for guided walks on the Athabasca glacier 
Closeup of one group 
The famous snowcoaches load and unload 
Unnamed glaciers on Mt. Andromeda 
A closeup 
The start of the Athabasca Glacier 
The Athabasca Glacier
Stats & facts on the Athabasca Glacier:
  • It's about 6 km long back to the Columbia Icefield, up to 320 m thick and up to 1.3 km wide
  • Being a glacier, it's always moving forward, about 120 m/yr or 30 cm/day at it's fastest spot (at the base of the icefall in the photo) and 15 m/yr or 4 cm/day at the toe
  • But it's also always melting. The current retreat rate of the toe is about 20 m/yr, meaning that it's melting at the rate of 35 m/yr or 10 cm/day (advance rate less retreat rate) at the toe
  • The Athabasca glacier does not source the Athabasca River. It sources the Sunwapta River. The Athabasca River is sourced by the Columbia Glacier from one of several lakes called Columbia Lake. 
  • The Athabasca Glacier is not on Mt. Athabasca; it's between Mt. Andromeda and Snow Dome.
We started to head home from here and soon ran into a bear jam, half way between the Rampart Creek Hostel and Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Maybe 50 cars?
The bear is visible in the photo, just. He's that small, shadow-like black spot next to the lead blue car on the shoulder on the left. The bear was working his way towards us eating in the ditch right next to the road. A car would pull over next to the bear and park, and then the next car would leapfrog and park, and the bear would just continue to walk by car after car. One idiot in a white SUV pulled over and then crept forward at bear-walking speed, paralleling the bear for at least a minute.
And you wonder why bears get mad
On the bright side, no one was out of their car.

We passed by Bow Lake and saw Bow Falls was in full tilt flow, the Bow Glacier above it. The view made me want to go hike there again, as we did here and here and a bunch of other times.
Getting to the base of the falls is one of my favourite walks
Karen was tempted to take the 1A from Lake Louise to Banff, but I had had my fill of tourist drivers for the day.