Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Pixelbook returned: not compelling and 2-in-1 laptops are silly.

Silly is a euphemism. I tried the $1,000 Google Pixelbook in tablet mode while in a prone position. It's a big, heavy, clumsy "tablet". Who the heck thinks this is a good idea? When you bend the screen all the way back against the top of the laptop, it doesn't suddenly start running Android. It just eliminates the keyboard, which is then exposed on the bottom of the newly formed "tablet". What are you supposed to do when you want to put it down? Unflip it so that the keyboard is not damaged?

The Pixelbook has one of those elongated screens, more vertical than that which we've been using for years. Another, who the heck thinks this is a good idea? Of all things, the Google Chrome browser seemed to be somewhat dysfunctional when resizing: the vertical scroll bar disappeared and some of the top of the screen, too. Gmail just didn't seem to fit on that Pixelbook screen, something that would seem pretty basic. How come all of those reviews that I had checked never addressed that? Maybe because they were too immersed in the screen brightness and keyboard, both of which were nice but not compelling.

I was more comfortable with the Toshiba 13 inch Chromebook that I've been using for a few years. My first Chromebook was an 11 inch Samsung. Both seemed natural and quick enough. The Pixelbook keyboard was backlit but that only presents in the dark. It also felt cramped, I guess because the Pixelbook is about an inch narrower, something to consider when evaluating any elongated screen. I like my Toshiba keyboard better.

I had also ordered the special Google pen for the Pixelbook. I never took it out of the box. I was already disappointed. I tried a couple of built in apps in "tablet" mode. No big deal. I like the idea of a touch screen for my Chromebook but not because I'm desperate to use Android apps.

Finally, much has been made of Google Assistant being built in. Functionally, it's the same as what I've had on my Android phones for years, isn't it? Or on Google Home? And on my Android tablet? My most recent tablet, the Nexus 9, died, which is the main reason I searched for an overall upgrade to another type of touch screen. A 2-in-1 laptop is not the answer and the Google Pixelbook is way too expensive to pretend otherwise. So, after two days I decided to return before it became unreturnable.

To Google's credit I have already received a message stating that I would be reimbursed in full, which is way better than some other companies that charge a 15% restocking fee. I used the Google supplied shipping label and lugged it to the Post Office today.

Google has stopped selling tablets. If you search the Google store for a tablet you are redirected to the Pixelbook. The tech intelligentsia have already concluded that the tablet is dead, that why would anyone want a tablet when he/she can have a 2-in-1 laptop. I think that the death of the tablet is greatly exaggerated.

Altice has problems but should be tried.

This post has gotten several comments, pretty much all negative:

Altice One box: more problems. THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2018

Most of the problems that I have had have gone away. The remote no longer loses pairing with the Altice One box. DVD playback only occasionally gets interrupted and even then usually resumes after I click OK.

The two boxes still turn themselves off after not receiving something from the remote for a while but I now know to look at the power button and if it's red I push it before turning on the TV and that avoids the formerly mysterious blank screen. Still mysterious is why Altice continues to annoy its customers with this policy but apparently it frees up bandwidth, or so I suppose.

Still annoying and probably easily fixed:
- three buttons must be pushed to get the guide on screen
- on screen information about a program is very limited; a movie does not even show the year on the first screen
- if there are multiple pages of info, the way to get to page two is to click the up arrow to get the cursor positioned to then click the right arrow to get to page two
- comparable nonsense for changing the end time when setting up a recording.

This stuff looks like it was designed by people who had heard about TV but had never actually watched TV. So, why try or stick with Altice?

Altice is making a fundamental attempt to do it differently and it's not missing by all that much. It's the first to actually pair a remote to a box. Previously, if you had two TV sets in the same room, changing the channel on one changed it on all. Now that problem has gone away.

The modem and router functions are combined into one small Altice One tuner box. That's been dismissed in some descriptions as something for non-techies. Hey, why should a techie not like it? Why add complexity and confusion? It forces you to have Internet connections near your TV, which encourages and simplifies streaming.

My biggest complaint, even more than the inconvenience of getting to the guide, is the lack of any intelligent fast forward (FF). In fact, the Altice FF is worse than that of regular Cablevision Optimum. Verizon FIOS has FF in 30 and 10 second chunks, plus multi-speed FF. The 30 and 10 seconds of FF makes looking at recorded sports, especially baseball, fairly palatable. You can FF between pitches, which removes much of the dead time.

Give Altice a try. What the heck?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Chromebook's OpenVPN support is very limited ... cannot connect to our services ... OpenVPN Technologies, Inc."

You can't make up stuff like this. Below is an exchange of messages with privatetunnel.com.

to: support@privatetunnel.com
date: Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 7:34 PM
subject: Set up virtual private networks (VPNs) - Chromebook Help
mailed-by: gmail.com


Your Chromebook has built-in support for these VPNs:
L2TP over IPsec with PSK
L2TP over IPsec with certificate-based authentication

What am I missing? ​"OpenVPN": ain't that you?

I had your service for a year and used it on my Android tablet but I really need it for my Chromebooks.

from: PrivateTunnel Support
reply-to: support@privatetunnel.com
to: ken
date: Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 1:24 AM
subject: Re: PrivateTunnel support ticket Set up virtual private networks (VPNs) - Chromebook Help #PT00009281
signed-by: privatetunnel.com

New reply for the PrivateTunnel support ticket #PT00009281

Hello there.

Chromebook's OpenVPN support is very limited, and unfortunately cannot be used to connect to our services.
You will need a full Linux system in order to connect to our service successfully.

Sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you.
If you'd like to unsubscribe and stop receiving these emails click here.

David Lam
Best Regards,

David Lam
OpenVPN Technologies, Inc.


Chromebook "Set up virtual private networks (VPNs)": yeah, right! SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2018

Are you kidding? Build the damn VPN into your OS. Who the heck knows what you're talking about? Chromebooks are supposed to be simple. Google should protect us without expecting us to follow esoteric instructions like monkeys.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 (Z500M) returned.

Received this ASUS ZenPad yesterday, March 24, 2018. Wasted a lot of time realizing that ASUS loaded Android with ASUS software. It was a rude awakening since I am accustomed to almost pure Android on my several Motorola smartphones and two Nexus tablets. The only reason that I considered replacing my Nexus 9 tablet was that its battery has been acting like it's been invaded by Martians. It has Android 7. The new ASUS ZenPad (that name should have alerted me) came with Android 6. It eventually upgraded to Android 7 but why ship 6 when 8 is coming this summer?

It doesn't even show the percent of battery power remaining. It's got its own Contacts app. Who knew the Google Android Contacts app could even be removed? And why? And where was the default camera app? If I want to upgrade that app, let me decide.

During what passes for orientation I had a chance to load data and apps from my previous tablet. I thought this came from a Google server, not from the old tablet. Suppose the old tablet is incapacitated as was the case here? I got my ailing Nexus 9 out of its sick bed and booted up. But then when I initiated the ASUS porting it failed, as did my Nexus finally. What the heck? I had to manually install apps from the Google Play Store.

The screen is often unresponsive. The back "button" on the bottom is impossible to see. You have to grope for it, at which time it lights up. Also, where did the back arrow at the top left of the browser go? I was often left with no visible back arrow/button.

Holding this large slippery tablet often caused unintended stuff to happen. I'm guessing that the fringe triggers functions and that I was doing that inadvertently.

I'm returning this ASUS ZenPad. I'd advise you to investigate extra junk installed by a manufacturer. I did not consider a Samsung Galaxy because I know that Samsung loads lots of its stuff on top of Android and I did not want that. Unfortunately, I did not check whether ASUS also did that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Altice One remote turns itself off every day.

What the heck? Pretty much each morning the remote paired to my primary Altice One box  has lost full functionality. It turns the TV on. That's, of course, after I push the button on the box to turn off the red light and put the box back into active status. But once the TV is on the remote cannot do anything else. I've learned to pop out one of the three batteries and re-insert. Then the remote works OK.

Sometimes the TV screen shows a cryptic message about an error with the remote or trying to update the remote or something. It's not on screen long enough to absorb at the same time that I'm removing and replacing a battery.

The remote to the secondary mini box has not had this problem.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Chromebook "Set up virtual private networks (VPNs)": yeah, right!


You can use some types of VPNs on your Chromebook without installing any software. For other types, you can install VPN apps ...

Your Chromebook has built-in support for these VPNs:
  • L2TP over IPsec with PSK
  • L2TP over IPsec with certificate-based authentication
  • OpenVPN
Note: I recently dumped OpenVPN at privatetunnel.com because it couldn't support my Chromebook.

There's way more junk in the article. Read it for yourself.

Was this article helpful? No!

My comment:

Are you kidding? Build the damn VPN into your OS. Who the heck knows what you're talking about? Chromebooks are supposed to be simple. Google should protect us without expecting us to follow esoteric instructions like monkeys.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lionel FasTrack O-31 do NOT fit into each other.

from: Ken
to: LionelSupport@lionel.com
date: Sat, Mar 3, 2018 at 8:52 AM
subject: Re: Your order no. 987-123456789 has been received

... I had ordered O-31 curve FasTrack from Legacy Station in Georgia. At least half of the connections do not properly snap together. I've been using your O-36 FasTrack for about ten years so I know how to connect them. These O-31 FasTrack are so deficient as to be unusable. When I push hard to force a connection, a nearby connection loosens, even separates completely. It's ridiculous. I might cancel this loco order because of it.

I also learned the hard way that O-31 curve does not fit inside O-36. I then checked the Lionel catalog and noticed that O-31 is NOT shown fitting as the other sizes do. However, Lionel should make that VERY CLEAR in WRITING.

Online messages confirm this and also state that MTH O-31 does fit inside Lionel O-36. I may switch to MTH Realtrax ... and maybe more.

Oh, please confirm that those two GP7 locos are "w/Bluetooth" same as the GP38. Thanks. The details for GP7 mention Bluetooth but the product headline does not as it does for GP38. Confusing and possibly disconcerting.

Call me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Lionel toy and model trains have simple functional remote control. Best option: LionChief Plus with Bluetooth.

This guy makes the case pretty well:

It's a good introduction to modern technology in toy trains.

You can slide past his detailed description of this particular locomotive to the functional stuff about remote control. I've been researching the current options, including those from:
- MTH: Uses WiFi through a router from loco to its app on phone or tablet.
- Bachmann: Uses a simpler Bluetooth connection from loco to app on phone or tablet.
- BlueRail: Makes the circuit boards and software used by Bachmann in its HO locos; BlueRail products can also be purchased separately.

I was all set to get MTH stuff but trying to decipher MTH options and product lines and way too much confusing extra hardware delayed my decision. Then I thought Bachmann was the way to go; no WiFi, just Bluetooth and no extra hardware. Now I prefer what Lionel has done:

- Very simple physical remote control (forward/reverse, sounds, including announcements), I think first introduced in kids sets for TOY trains as distinguished from MODEL trains:
        - Thomas
        - Polar Express
- LionChief
- LionChief Plus with Bluetooth connection from loco to app on phone or tablet. But Bluetooth is only in some newer locos. So far, not easy to determine which.

Note: Some of the kids sets have battery powered locomotives with a simpler but functionally same remote control. They retail for about $100 and run on plastic tracks. They are G scale (large). This is a very good value. The main negative is that the loco is powered by six C batteries. I don't know how practical it is but functionally it would have been preferable to have something like a rechargeable lithium ion battery, the type that we use in phones and tablets.

Be careful of older LionChief locos, introduced around 2015. Later Lionel came out with LionChief Plus. All LionChief and LionChief Plus locos have the physical remote that is nicely paired to its loco using radio frequency, NOT Bluetooth. However, only some newer LionChief Plus locos also have the Bluetooth connection to the app, which among other things can control the volume of the sounds; LionChief Plus locos can also have their volume controlled via the remote. The plain LionChief locos have their volume set to VERY LOUD and the volume cannot be reduced no matter what some Lionel documentation states. The only option is to turn the loco upside down and flip the sound on/off switch. But even that only eliminates the sound of the announcements and, I think, idling (cannot recall). The buttons for bell and whistle still work and are VERY LOUD.

I now think the way to go is LionChief Plus with Bluetooth. It's got BOTH a physical remote AND access to the more functional app. Except for MTH, I don't see that the others have a decent remote and MTH, I think, outsmarted itself and awoke Lionel, which made a big comeback. A few years ago the Lionel CEO was essentially removed:

Lionel CEO left April 16! Howard Hitchcock is the new president. TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2014

Dealers had been ignorant about this tech evolution in the last five years and I've only just caught on in 2018. I had been ignoring the clumsy alphabet soup mess that the industry had been engulfed in trying to satisfy too many old guys who wanted anything new to also work with their old stuff ... if at all.

Note: Most, if not all, apps were initially written for Apple products. My guess is that the decision makers were not too computer techie and defaulted to Apple iPads and iPhones. Later some added app versions that ran on devices running the Android operating system.

But even now the Lionel Layout Control System (LCS) app is still only Apple; no Android version in sight.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Altice One set top box turns itself off regularly.

All through the day and certainly overnight. If I use the remote control to turn on the TV, I see this on a blank screen (ignore reflection, the screen is blank):

If there is an "INPUT button" I have no idea where it is; I checked remote and box.

My Altice service started 1/15/18 after moving and switching from Verizon FIOS. Altice is the parent company of Cablevision Optimum.

Altice is probably still learning how its new boxes operate in the real world but I had a tech person out here a couple of days after my service started to address this problem and nothing was actually done and there has been no follow up and the problem persists.

What the heck?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Altice One box: more problems.

My previous post on Altice described an initial problem. My service started Jan. 15, 2018.

Altice set top boxes "turn off", i.e., the red power light goes on. What the heck? SATURDAY, JANUARY 20, 2018

Since, more problems:
- voice recognition fails to function at all; error message on screen
- info button on lower right of remote sometimes fails
- DVR function sometimes does not function; advised to try later
- guide sometimes not available
- freezes up sometimes.

Settings: very little of substance to set.

Three button clicks to reach the guide rather than a dedicated button. No indication of a user defined button that might make the guide available much more directly. This is needed since the voice search fails often.

More info:


AlticeOne is Optimum and Suddenlink's New All-In-1 Box. It combines your Modem, Router and Cable Box into a central hub. With Every Minibox added in addition to the Main Box, they are your typical cable box but with WiFi Extender built-in. The Mini Box are Essentially Creating a Wireless Mesh System, To Help Eliminate WiFi Dead Zones You May Have In Your Residence.

Manufacturer: Sagemcom

AlticeOne is Mostly Geared Towards Those Who Don't Know A lot About Networking As Its Still A Web Managed Router From Optimum With Limited Firmware Options.

Altice has problems but should be tried. TUESDAY, APRIL 10, 2018

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Altice set top boxes "turn off", i.e., the red power light goes on. What the heck?

I sent the email message below to the Altice person I found at:


If I don't get a reply, maybe I'll try:


Management Structure of Altice Europe and Altice USA

Altice Europe and Altice USA will be managed by two distinct management teams, focused solely on the performance in their respective markets. Both management teams will benefit from the strategic leadership of founder and controlling shareholder Patrick Drahi, who will serve as President of the Board of Altice Europe and Chairman of the Board of Altice USA. Armando Pereira will serve as COO of Altice Europe and serve as strategic advisor to Altice USA for all operations.

Dennis Okhuijsen will serve as CEO and a Director of Altice Europe with all corporate functions and country managers reporting into him. He will report to Patrick Drahi.

Dexter Goei will continue to serve as CEO and a Director of Altice USA. He will report to Patrick Drahi.

Do you think dexter.goei@alticeusa.com would work?

Or maybe patrick.drahi@alticeusa.com.

from: Ken
to: krista.ostertag@alticeusa.com
date: Sat, Jan 20, 2018 at 8:54 AM
subject: Altice techie issue.


Sorry to bother you but there's nothing on the Cablevision (Optimum) website about the new Altice boxes I got 1/17/18 when I moved and switched from Verizon FIOS to Altice.

It's slow and tedious to reach tech support for Altice. Customers must go through the usual call prompting labyrinth to finally reach Altice support people.

Each night well after midnight both my Altice set top boxes "turn off", i.e., the red power light goes on. I learned from one of your Altice techie people that I needed to push that red button to make the red light go off. Then when I used the Altice remote control to start my TV it works OK instead of showing either a blank screen or a message that there is no signal, depending on which of the two Altice boxes is being used.

Unfortunately, the Altice techie person did not know why this was happening.

​Altice needs to improve on this in obvious ways. Thanks.​

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Altice: it ain't your father's Cablevision (Optimum).

First impression in an Altice survey after one day of service after switching from Verizon FIOS:

Altice. Otherwise, it's just dumb old Cablevision (Optimum). The new boxes, etc. make it worth trying. I switched from Verizon FIOS. Altice remotes are Bluetooth paired with individual set top boxes. Duh. Finally. I have two TVs and two boxes in the same room and until Altice a remote would change stuff on both boxes, like change the channel. This was true for Cablevision and is still true for Verizon FIOS.

Unfortunately, it's still got dumb fast forward (FF): no 10/30 second skip like Verizon FIOS.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Avalon rent: renewal 41% higher than new tenant - new high.

That's a new high in this one example. Apparently, the business model is to hook new tenants with outrageous rents, then increase the rent every ten months until the tenants leave. It seems counter intuitive but it probably makes money or Avalon would't do it. Here's the box score:

from 722from 722from 1122from 1122
unit12/15/2017dif% difdif% dif
rent 4/2017 - 2/20181122$4,021$91129.29%
for rent722$3,110

Read the previous post about Avalon for context:

Avalon rents can vary by more than 28 percent in the same apartment line in the same building. Renewal: 39% higher! SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Samsung sent its return shipping label but will still charge 15% restocking.

I called again and again almost fell into a hole but lucked out with someone who got permission from his supervisor to send the label directly to my gmail ID, instead of to the one with my domain, the same domain email ID to which Samsung had been sending all its other messages.

Oh, before I made that call, I sent a message to this guy:


Tim Baxter

President and CEO 
Samsung Electronics North America

Tech Thoughts: Samsung "support" messages: a trail of incompetence.
date:Sat, Nov 25, 2017 at 9:13 AM
subject:Tech Thoughts: Samsung "support" messages: a trail of incompetence.


No reply.

Samsung "support" messages: a trail of incompetence.

Samsung Chromebook Pro: see the two previous posts about attempts to return this. Samsung internal systems are so messed up that Samsung is incapable of sending a return shipping label. I just logged into my Samsung account and ...


Looks like we don't have your address on file
Samsung just sent its product to me a few days ago. How could it have lost my home address?

Let's take trip down Samsung lane:

Kenneth, welcome to Samsung
from:Samsung samsung-rt1@samsunggalaxy.email
date:Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 10:07 AM
subject:Kenneth, welcome to Samsung
security: Standard encryption


Samsung - Order Receipt #DAA...........
date:Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 10:12 AM
subject:Samsung - Order Receipt #DAAZXO1G3
security: Standard encryption

Samsung - Order Confirmation #DAA.......
from:orders@shopping.us.samsung.comvia amazonses.com 
date:Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 8:00 PM
subject:Samsung - Order Confirmation #DAA......
security: Standard encryption


[Samsung E-Commerce] Re: Order status -- Order date - 17th November
from:Samsung Directsupport@seaecomm.zendesk.com
reply-to:Samsung Direct
date:Sun, Nov 19, 2017 at 3:17 PM
subject:[Samsung E-Commerce] Re: Order status -- Order date - 17th November
security: Standard encryption
Sai Anvesh Pipper (Samsung E-Commerce)
Nov 19, 15:17 EST
Hello Kenneth,

Samsung - Order Shipped #DAA.......
from:orders@shopping.us.samsung.comvia amazonses.com 
date:Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 8:34 AM
subject:Samsung - Order Shipped #DAA......
security: Standard encryption

Samsung - Order Delivered #DAA......
from:orders@shopping.us.samsung.comvia amazonses.com 
date:Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 1:22 PM
subject:Samsung - Order Delivered #DAA........
security: Standard encryption

date:Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 10:27 AM
subject:Re: Samsung - Order Delivered #DAA

I'd like to return. When I finally figured out how to get around your router connection anomaly and started using, I found that the criticisms of your keyboard were not severe enough. Your keyboard really sucks.

from:Mail Delivery Subsystem mailer-daemon
date:Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 10:28 AM
subject:Delivery Status Notification (Failure)

Address not found

Your message wasn't delivered to orders@shopping.us.samsung.com because the address couldn't be found, or is unable to receive mail.

from:Samsung Customer Support Centerdear_customer@contactus.samsung.com
date:Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 1:49 PM
security: Standard encryption
Customer reference number: nnnnnnnnnnnn
Please quote your customer reference number when contacting Samsung 
Email response ID: nnnnnnnnnnnn

Dear Kenneth Matinale,

Thank you for contacting Samsung. We've received both your emails...

Please note that you may be charged a 15% Restocking Fee for non-defective returned items...

Thank you for being a Samsung Customer! 
Samsung Online Support 

Kind regards, 

Aravind B 
Email Support 
SAMSUNG Customer Support Center 

Please do not reply back to this email message as this email address is used for 
outbound messages only.

Friday, November 2, 2017, 3:32 PM
2 mins, 14 sec

Totally fruitless and aggravating phone conversation with the sales group that the next email wants me to talk to again. The sales person insisted that they had sent the return shipping label. I checked everywhere, including SPAM. No email from Samsung with any attachment.

Samsung could not confirm that the message had been sent or by which organization. I was told the matter was being referred to ... some organizational black hole. I tried calling again last night but Samsung was closed. I'll try again after posting this.

from:Samsung Customer Support Centerdear_customer@contactus.samsung.com
date:Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 7:52 PM
security: Standard encryption
Dear Kenneth Matinale, 

Thank you for writing back to us. I do understand your concern. 

If only I had the option to work on this, I would have surely assisted you; however, the support channel that you have contacted is dedicated to handle technical and service related issues with Samsung devices and do not have access to the information on Sales and return labels. 

For any further information related to return label and change of email address, please contact our sales support team. Our Sales Department will be able to help you with the further information. You may contact them at 855-726-8721952-908-4074; Sun-Sat, 9am – 9pm EST, or at 


Thank you for being a Samsung Customer! 
Samsung Online Support 

Kind regards, 

Abhishek G 
Email Support 
SAMSUNG Customer Support Center