Yesterday, I bought a new Essential Phone from Amazon for US $335.  I guess it boils down to two things:

  1. I couldn’t pass up that price for a phone with more horsepower and a bigger screen than my Nokia 6.1.
  2. More important, Essential Phone is one of the compatible platforms listed by the /e/ Foundation’s new OS.  I have no intention of playing around with beta’s, but having an Essential phone means I’m ready once /e/ gets released in a stable 1.0 version.  That is important to me and should give me a year head start, in 2019, before /e/ comes out with a phone from an OEM with /e/ pre installed, in 2020.

I used Keurig single serve coffee machines for many years.  I went through a lot of machines, some made by Keurig and some by others.  I liked my Keurig machines.  Then I lost two machines just a couple of months apart.  It wasn’t the Keurigs’ fault,  I had two weird electric power company outages that must have had a power spike.  Both machines bricked themselves and no amount of unplugging or cures found online would bring them back to working order.

I decided to try a simpler way to make coffee.  Something low tech. Something less expensive.

I still liked the single serve aspect for making coffee.  I’d used pod coffeemakers and then Keurig machines for a long time and didn’t want to give that up.  I also wanted low maintenance and easy cleanup plus durability.  I wanted good coffee.

One thing the Keurig was – it was fast, but I was willing to sacrifice some speed for all of the above.

My Slow Coffee Solution

Kettle: I found these goose-necked electric hot water kettles.  They heat up your water to the correct temperature for brewing coffee.  The best part is they turn themselves off when the water reaches that proper temperature, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting and leaving one plugged in.  They are relatively fast a full pot heats up from cold to hot in about 5 minutes.  These also work great for tea and hot chocolate.

Pour Over Cone Filter:  next was a stainless steel pour over cone filter.  I looked at other systems like French Press but the glass is breakable and I didn’t know how easy cleaning the parts would be.  With this I just stick it in the dishwasher every night and it comes out fine.  I also liked that it was eco-friendly and didn’t require paper filters.

Coffee Storage:  I use pre ground coffee.  It’s just easier and faster for me.  I store it in this stainless steel canister.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Equipment costs less.
  • Simple, less to go wrong.
  • No plastic contact with water or coffee.
  • Coffee is less expensive.
  • Modular, if one piece breaks the others are still usable.
  • Easier to regulate amount of water and coffee to taste.

Cons

  • Slower
  • More work per cup.  (This is pretty minor.)

You can just use a regular coffee mug.  I like a double cup in the morning on the porch and I don’t want it to get cold too quick.  So I use this 20 oz. tumbler.  With this removable handle.

 

Coffees I Like

I like dark roasted coffees.

Favorite: Seattle’s Best Post Alley

Cheap Everyday Good: Aldi Dark French Roast

 

What happens when you have company?  I bought the Melitta 10 cup coffee maker.  I have not used it, but I got it just in case.

 

A few days ago I bought a Windows laptop, my first Windows 10 machine and my first Windows computer in decades.  But this is mainly a hardware review, Windows is Windows no matter what it  is running on, so I will save most of my adventures with Win10 for a separate post.

I searched Amazon high and low trying to find something suitable, new, at my price point, that I didn’t have to wait a week to get.  And I was pretty well stymied with every laptop there was always something missing.  Finally out of desperation, I clicked on Amazon’s Choice recommended lineup for laptops.  And that is where I found my Asus Vivobook Thin and Light 14″ laptop. (How’s that for a mouthful?)  Frankly, it was a little more than I wanted to spend but it was about the only laptop that had all the features I really wanted and wasn’t on back order or something.  It was in stock and ready to ship.

The computer arrived on time.  The box contained the laptop, two small booklets and the AC power source. That’s it. Frankly that is all you need.  One booklet was a Getting Started guide, fast read, easy to understand. The second, much thicker, booklet was written by lawyers and bean counters so I put it aside without looking at it.  I liked that there was not a lot of disks or loose papers – clean and neat.

Here are the features that made the Asus Vivobook stand out:

  • 14″ FHD screen. There is more selection in the 15.6″ laptop category but I wanted something more portable.
  • 8 GB RAM minimum.
  • Intel i7 processor.  I really wasn’t picky on this point. It could have been an i5.  This will do the job.  I did want Intel.
  • 256GB SSD no more spinning disks for me.
  • Backlit keyboard.
  • Standard connectors.
  • Thin and Light 🙂
  • Decent battery life for it’s size and weight.

With all the cheaper laptops there was always one or two or more of these features missing.  Anyway it had all that good stuff and the reviews were good.

Impressions in actual use:

  • Color: Case is metal. A sort of champagne tint aluminum.  Actually looks good.  I’m not picky as long as it is NOT pink, plum, red, etc.  The unit feels very light, lighter than my 13″ MacBook Pro.
  • Screen: excellent. Nice FHD, bright, easy to read.
  • Backlit keyboard: the back lighting is excellent.  About the best I have used.
  • Keyboard: Minor thing, I would prefer a little more cupping for the finger pads in the keys.  It’s not a deal breaker but it would be nice.  No problems with key travel and the keys are well placed.
  • Fan: the fan kicks in when the unit is downloading a honking big Windows 10 update.  It’s Windows so not unexpected.
  • Speakers: they seem clear, I have not tried them for music yet.
  • Power Cord: good length.
  • Finger Print Sensor: it has it. I have not used it.
  • Weight: it feels lighter than my Macbook Pro.

If I found any weakness it might be in the WiFi antenna.  My Comcast WiFi is uneven and both the Macbook and the Linux laptop did a better job of pulling in a weak signal.  That is a preliminary finding, it could just be the temperature conditions on the last two days were bad.

Everything on the Asus seems to be well made.

OEM Software:

Asus and Microsoft did not garbage the laptop up with to much bloatware.  Most of it is standard on any Windows computer.  My first job was uninstalling the critical stuff I did not want plus getting rid of the MS “warm and fuzzy” software, like games, I will never use.

Uninstalled:

McAffee Anti virus (and more) trial software. My experience is McAfee (and Norton) are system hogs. See below for my replacements.

Silenced Cortana: this is just my personal preference. Cortana is decent, if you like it keep it on, I just don’t like things talking to me.

Games: I’m not a gamer so Candy Crush could go. Minecraft and more went too.

MS Office Trial:  I don’t need it and I’m not going to pay for it. (See below.)

Tiles:  Those things in the Windows menu tray left over from Windows 8.  They take up a lot of memory so I got rid of them.

Google Chrome: Google has this loaded with ways to track you. I got rid of it.

Replacements:

Antivirus: AVG Anti virus free.  I’ve used AVG on Windows, Mac and Android for many years.

Anti ransomware: Cybereason RansomFree (free).  Always defend in depth.

Office: WPS Office (free) also came on the laptop.  I already have WPS on my Android phone and it seems decent for me as little as I use it, anyway I kept it.  A free heavy duty office suite is LibreOffice which is great if you want more.

Browser:  I installed Vivaldi which is my favorite and takes care of my privacy concerns. Normally I would also install Firefox, to have a backup browser, but Win10 comes with Edge browser which you cannot uninstall so I will use that as a backup for now.

eMail: Win10 comes with a program “Mail” which looks like a modern version of Outlook.  It’s attractive.  Some people have reported problems with it, so I took some advice and installed Mailbird, which I like so far.

That’s it, you have to root around Win10 to change defaults but that is a Windows thing.  None of this software swapping in any way reflects badly on Asus, I would do the same with any Windows 10 computer.

One final thing:  I think this is under Windows Settings >> Privacy, I shut down all tracking and reporting Win 10 sends to Microsoft.   If you use Cortana, you might need some of it but I don’t so I shut it all down.

2018

 

 

 

 

This is the infamous vacuum cleaner post I have been promising to write.

I just bought a refurbished vacuum cleaner.  A Tristar MG-2 canister, if you must know.  It’s a compact model which is handy to pull out quickly when you track something in and for carrying out to the garage for cleaning out the cars.  New Tristars are very expensive.  Refurbished they still are not cheap but they will outlast most of the plastic junk built today.

A family I knew well, bought a Tristar back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.  Back then the styling had not changed since the 1940’s.  The family nicknamed it The Pig, because it looked like a little piggy rolling behind them.  It was ugly in a cute sort of way, built like a tank and powerful.  I know they used it for over 20 years and they loved it.

Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Better to buy a quality refurbished vacuum than a new cheap plastic vac. Most new plastic vacs cost $150 to 500 or more.  The really cheap ones are abysmal and all are kind of considered disposable.

Here are the numbers I am seeing: You can buy a new “high end” plastic vacuum cleaner for $500.  It might be made in China or it might be assembled in Germany from Chinese parts.  Or you can spend $250 – 500 for a quality refurbished vacuum cleaner, made in USA, made of metal, that will still be running in 10 – 15 years.  Heck, $250 – 350 buys a heck of a lot in the refurbished department.

Most of the high quality vacuums are made in the USA. I like that.

High quality vacuums can be repaired, Usually it’s just a new belt.  They can be refurbished and have a second life and will probably still outlast the modern plastic ones.  I’ve learned this the hard way.

It is okay to have more than one vacuum cleaner.  I have one for each floor of my house because I’m done lugging a vac up and down flights of stairs.  Also a vac model that is perfect for your ground floor may not work as well upstairs where the bedrooms are.

Bag vs. Bag less

I’ve owned expensive bag less vacuums.  I hated having to go outside to the dumpster all the time to empty the  dirt collector with dust flying everywhere in the wind.  Trying to empty that dirt cup into a garbage can indoors just puts dust back in the air.  And it’s all plastic so dust clings to that dust collector like crazy.  If you have pets, the disposable bags are neater and do not collect pet smells the way plastic does.  The only two bag less vacuums I recommend are Rainbow and Filter Queen (see below).

 

Upright vs. canister

Whatever you prefer. I have had several upright vacuums starting with a couple of Hoovers to a couple of Dysons.  Uprights cant get under furniture the way a canister can. Uprights need some room to maneuver.  Uprights seem to work better in offices and retail stores than in smaller home spaces.  If you have large rooms and hallways with big expanses of wall to wall carpet, and are used to an upright, get an upright.  Get a refurbished Kirby.  You want one with a Kevlar fan blade.  If you have small rooms with lots of tight spaces I think a canister is better.

Why Buy Refurbished Vacuums?

Why buy a refurbished vacuum cleaner?  If you buy one of the vacuum cleaners listed below brand new, you are going to pay over $1000 – 2000 or $3000 or more depending on model.  That is a lot of money – too much money for me.  If I buy a properly refurbished machine I get like 96% of the machine if it was new at a fraction of the New price.

Get to the Vacuum Cleaner Models Man!

Upright: Kirby.  Search for Reconditioned Kirby’s.  Runner up: Electrolux/Aerus upright.

Canisters:

Rainbow: Made in USA.  These use water to filter out dust and dirt instead of a bag. Even the older pre-HEPA models are remarkable at filtering the air.  I’m convinced every home should have a Rainbow and here is why: a Rainbow can suck up water: plumbing leaks, basement seepage, roof leaks, windows left open in a storm the Rainbow can suck those wet messes up.  If you live in a place prone to flooding a Rainbow is great for cleaning up afterwards.  It’s great for sucking up excess water out of a basement carpet.  It’s great to have one in reserve. Search for Reconditioned Rainbow’s.

Pro Tip: If you buy a Rainbow, invest in a non-electrified wet hose, plastic tubes and squeegee attachment if your unit didn’t come with it.  These can be aftermarket but made for your model Rainbow. Cheap insurance!

Even if you already have a working vacuum cleaner, a rebuilt Rainbow with it’s wet pickup can be a good investment and a compliment to your primary vac.  Add the optional carpet shampooing attachment and it has even more uses.

Plus, of course, it vacuums up dry dust and sand like crazy.  It works really well for dusting and not putting allergiens back in the air.

There is a downside to the Rainbow, because you have to fill the tank with water before each use, it is not the best for a quick cleanup when the kids track in dirt and the in-laws are due any second, or for lugging out to the driveway to vacuum the interior of the car. The Rainbow is for weekly cleaning day.

Others in no particular order. You really can’t go wrong with any of these.

Electrolux/Aerus:  These are well built machines which are sort of torpedo shaped.  They have a great disposable filter bag system so bag changes are clean and neat.  The retractable cord is a great feature.  They last a long time.  Search for Reconditioned Aerus.

Tristar: Made in USA. compact, powerful, they are built to last.  If you need something smaller and lighter for lugging around or in a cramped home or apartment this is perfect.  Search for Reconditioned Tristar.

Filter Queen:  Made in USA. my experience is only second hand but they have a reputation for lasting forever and being very good at cleaning and air quality without losing suction.  These can be good if you have a long haired pets.  They even make a dog grooming attachment.  Refurbished Filter Queens seem to be in high demand.  Search for Reconditioned Filter Queen.

The only caution I hear about Filter Queen is, officially, you are supposed to change the paper filter cone – every time you use it – if that is true in real practice then it’s not quite the grab and start sweeping type of vac like an Aerus, Tristar or Kirby is. Plus the cost of those cones could add up.  I have no experience with Filter Queen, but I suspect that most owners don’t change that filter quite that often unless they have lots of pets or allergies.  Again, a Filter Queen will last a good long time.

Where else to buy?

Online Retailers:  There are a number of them, a good search engine will find them.  I bought my Rainbow from Great Vacs a few years ago and I just ordered that Tristar from them because I was satisfied with their service.

eBay:  You need to do your homework buying a refurbished vacuum cleaner on eBay.  You want to find a seller that really refurbishes the machine and doesn’t just polish up the exterior with Armor All and pass it off as refurbishment.  Find out: 1. what the seller does for refurbishment, 2. what their return and refund policy is (if they don’t have one pass), 3. what is their sales history and buyer satisfaction rating, 4. how much is shipping and what is the final price with shipping, 5. what exactly you are getting: hoses, attachments etc.  You want to separate the garage sale finds from a truly refurbished model done by someone that knows what they are doing.

What if I Want a New Vacuum Cleaner?

We’ve established that the vacs above are too high priced if bought new, at least for me.  But some people really want a new decent quality vac at an affordable price or they just don’t like the looks of the reconditioned vintage style vacs, above.

In my opinion, you will not find a really good quality vac for $100 – 200 range.  You get what you pay for and at those prices, even the plastic seems 3rd rate.

I have no direct experience with any of these brands or models.  My information comes from doing a lot research online.

Sebo – as of this writing, Sebo vacuums are still made in Germany.  They have a reputation for quality and some good features.  They make both canisters and uprights. They are not cheap.  Search for Sebo vacuum cleaner.

Perfect – new retro. These are reproductions of classic Electrolux/Aerus model canister vacs.  I have no experience with them.  I have heard they have a very powerful motor.  Made in China.  C101 has a metal body. C103 is a copy of a newer model with a high grade plastic housing.  Search for Perfect C101C103.

Miele – as far as I can tell, Miele is an EU company but these vacs are made in China.  I have no experience with them. They seem to be well regarded and they generally run lower in price than the Sebo and Perfect models. Be sure to check if they are bag or bag less so you get what you want.  Search for: Miele vacuum cleaners.

Pro Tip: You will see some canisters say “hard floor vacuum cleaner”.  They appear to be less expensive.  This is because they do not include a power head.  These are only good if you have no carpet and no area rugs.  IMHO you are better off getting a vac that lets you clean hard floors, carpet and area rugs right from the beginning.

What do you have?

Note: reading below is strictly optional in case you have insomnia.

I have a Rainbow “D” model bought refurbished as my main machine on my main floor.  I dust with it and sweep the floors with it. I bought this a few years ago online from Great Vacs (see above.)  It’s also my “just in case” vac should I ever have a wet cleanup requiring more than just a quick mop (ie. dishwasher leaks, clothes washer leaks, plumbing leaks, water in the basement, etc.)

Pro Tip:  I dump my Rainbow dirty water on the back lawn in good weather.  The lawn loves it.  In winter I empty the water into the toilet.

When I bought the Rainbow, I already had a subcompact 1990’s Royal canister with shoulder strap for quick spot cleaning, doing the stairs and cleaning car interiors. It was too small in capacity for general cleaning but it was good for those jobs.  The Royal also had a tendency to flop over off it’s wheels when trailing behind.  The Royal finally broke down and repairs were more than the little plastic vac was worth.  The refurbished Tristar, mentioned above is replacing the Royal.

My upstairs is all carpet.  I have a refurbished Electrolux, that I bought on eBay.  It is close to the model we had when I was a kid, so I guess nostalgia.

Unfinished basement:  I have a Dyson canister.  I originally bought this as a general purpose vac.  I hated it from the start.  I replaced it with the Rainbow.  The Dyson sits next to my workbench, plugged in and ready to suck up sawdust and anything else on the concrete floor in that area and off the workbench.  It works well for that task.

(Electrolux is now called Aerus.)  2018.

I tried to cover everything pretty extensively.  If you have questions feel free to ask in the comments below and I will try to get you an answer.

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What is the purpose of a “tall kitchen garbage/waste bag?”  In my household, it is to keep all the non-recyclable trash together until it reaches the landfill.  An amazing amount of that waste is plastic packaging used on food.  So the plastic garbage bag keeps all this plastic and some paper together both in the home and on the truck.  When driving behind a garbage truck, I see a lot of those plastic “grocery bags” flying out the top or back of the truck to litter the environment or work it’s way into a waterway.  A garbage bag minimizes that.

To me, it does not matter if the garbage bag itself will break down because it is going to be sealed in an air tight landfill and will probably still be there for centuries.

Compostable Plastic Trash Bags

These are made mostly of corn (maize).  They actually do compost into organic material.  Back in 2015 I tried some of these bags.  I wish I could say I was impressed but I can’t.  The bags are expensive and not strong enough.  I had to use two bags, one inside of the other which doubles the cost and even then they were barely strong enough.  The corners of trash would slit them too easily and they were leak prone.

I do see some uses for this technology from BioBag.  They might work as lawn and leaf bags, grocery store produce bags (if strong enough) and dog waste pickup bags, but not for general kitchen trash that is going to end up in a landfill anyway.

Responsibly Sourced Trash Bags

So the trash bag will end up in a landfill anyway, so how do we make trash bags more environmentaly responsible?  Either make them from recycled plastics or plastics derived from renewable sources.

Seventh Generation Drawstring Kitchen Trash Bags:  I bought these in 2017.  They are 65% recycled plastic (somebody has to use up the plastic sent to recycling).  To my surprise, these are pretty darn good.  Strong, reasonably priced and I like the drawstring.  They are also sized right.  They help the environment by creating a use for some of that plastic we recycle and they take less energy to produce.  I would buy these again.

Hippo Sak Tall Kitchen Bags:  So far I like these the best.  The material is 85% plant based from sugar cane.  They are not any more environmentally friendly after you use them than any other plastic bag, but they use less petroleum products so that’s a win.  They are very strong and resist leaking.  I didn’t think I would like the handles but I found it just as easy to tie then off to secure the top as any draw string bag. I will buy these again.

Your routine and circumstances may vary from mine.

In 2017 Linux computer maker System76 introduced their own flavor of Linux called Pop!_OS and started offering it as an option alongside Ubuntu as the pre-installed OS on their computers.  I have been using Pop!_OS (that is a pain in the ass to type) for a few weeks and finally got the opportunity to compare it to the newest Ubuntu version side by side.  Here is what I think.

Pop OS – System76 markets this for professional creators.  By that I think they mean people who use Linux professionally every day, know what software they will use and don’t want a lot of distractions.  And the Pop OS pretty much does this.  You don’t have to uninstall a bunch of programs you will never use.  The software store is a bit spartan, and does not offer as wide a range of choices in software as  Ubuntu.  The core Gnome desktop software is there along with some other programs.  Program descriptions are pretty sketchy in many instances but you can get by.

Take System76 at their word.  Pop OS is for the pros.  It is rock solid and workmanlike and a mainstream user can get by (especially if they Duckduck third party Linux how to articles).  In other words it does not suck.  People switching from Windows or macOS should use Ubuntu.

Ubuntu – One noticeable thing: right out of the box and unlike Pop OS, Ubuntu has proper Minimize, Maximize, Close buttons on the top right of each program window.  No horsing around, Ubuntu is ready to be a desktop OS and a replacement for Windows or macOS.  The Ubuntu software store (repository) has a lot more choices in software available, better icons and better more complete descriptions. Pros won’t care but mainstream users will appreciate the extra choices.  Even better Ubuntu has gone back to the Gnome 3 UI and dumped that awful Unity UI.  Win!

If you are a mainstream computer user or are moving to Linux from Windows or macOS, of the two, get Ubuntu. You will be happier.

All that said, I don’t regret my purchase of Pop OS.  It is perfectly competent and serves my needs.  It is rock solid like Linux is supposed to be.  While I don’t put myself in the creator class, once I find a program I like and does the job I pretty much stick with it. Which is what Pop OS was aiming for.  Either way, I am happy with my System76 hardware it is good quality and they have good support.

Added 4 September 2018

I’m downgrading my opinion of Pop_OS.  I am now encountering my 3rd problem with it that is going to require contacting Support.  System 76 support is excellent BTW.  But one problem locked down the whole computer and took nearly a week of back and forth command line stuff to fix.  4 days later a new problem cropped up with stuck system updates.

When this computer’s warranty runs out I will overwrite and install Ubuntu.

I really like System 76 hardware and support. I highly recommend it.  For now I only recommend you get Ubuntu installed as the OS.