The Northern Spy — A Tale of Three Technologies

The Northern Spy

Technologically speaking

it has been the worst of months, it has been the best of months, or perhaps neither.

On the low tech side of things, the Acme engine (never terrific) on his 40+ year old BCS Mainline walk behind tractor that he lately uses only as a tiller, choked out its last while preparing his garden for planting. Moreover, it went out with a bang, one that in the Spy’s experience, strongly evidences a broken rod. Dead dead in other words. There was trouble with this engine a year ago but the friendly folk at Diamond Bar Equipment ameliorated the problem, albeit only temporarily and rather noisily, as it turned out.

So now he had a choice–either buy an adapter to convert the bolt pattern and clutch from European to North American style and buy a Honda engine locally in the latter style and mount it on the adapter, or import a Kohler engine with a European bolt pattern to mount directly. Either the adapter or the new Kohler engine would have to be imported from the terra incognita beyond Canada’s southern boarder–a chancy proposition, especially for the potential impact of exchange, shipping costs, and customs duties on the wallet.  

A year ago, the Honda engine could be had locally for under $400CDN, and that plus the adapter would have been the wallet’s choice. Alas, not only was the new price now over $1000 for the same Honda engine, supply chain difficulties also meant that availability was so tight it squeaked like it was rusted shut for the indefinite duration. So the other option became best. A call to Earth Tools of Owenton, Kentucky, specialist importer and supplier to North America of the European walk behind tractor brands BCS and Grillo, elicited that yes they had stock of that 9.5 H.P. Kohler engine designed to fit the old BCS, not only was the price the same as a year ago, but it could be shipped in ten days (bit of a backlog down there) and arrive in ten more. The shipping cost was proportionately quite reasonable compared with, say, importing a computer cable to Canada.

So, the Spy sprung for the engine, a new throttle cable (supposedly needed because it was longer), two extra mounting studs (in case he broke one extracting them) and a tubular wraparound bumper to protect the engine. The massive box arrived on time and with modest customs charges, the removal of the old engine and installation of the new went perfectly per the supplied instructions, the Spy gassed it up and it started on the second pull. He has a better-than-new, much more powerful, and quieter walk behind tractor for about a quarter the cost of buying a new unit, if indeed he could have purchased one.

The only little flies in the ointment was the cable should have been shorter, not longer, and the supplied studs were different from the ones he removed and which fortunately he did not break (though the new ones may have been useful; he is unsure). But he shortened the cable and the re-made machine is a horse, with the new engine supplying perhaps triple the power the old one was limping on before its ugly demise when it shot itself. Kudos to Earth Tools. If you are looking for a heavy duty walk behind tractor built to agricultural standards that can take other tools if you wish (a brush cutter or rotary mower, or …), look them up. These things are not toys, and moreover, the ET people can replace any part from inventory, even for the four-decade old models. For instance, the Spy bought new tines for the tiller a few years ago as the originals became quite worn. It’s the way any and all technology should be sold and maintained. Computer industry take note. Why can’t one sub out the CPU module to get an upgrade to the latest model without tossing the last one?

But that wasn’t the only machine to die this spring

for his Synology 1815+ NAS that he used as his house photo server and principal backup machine, gave up its ghost as well. This started with it reporting a failed drive, which he replaced with one of greater capacity, swapping a failed 4T drive with and 8T Seagate Iron Wolf Enterprise drive, allowing the machine to incorporate it into the 1-drive redundant RAID, then replacing the paired drive as well.

That’s when thing began to go horribly, terribly wrong. After the second new drive was added to the RAID, the machine complained that the entire volume (now over 60T on eight drives) had crashed. Multiple attempts to delete the volume failed to proceed, and a subsequent attempt to delete the storage pool also failed. Finally, he reset the machine, re-installed the OS, re-established himself as admin, and lo and behold, the failed volume status was still there, only now the machine wouldn’t stay turned on, but kept shutting down. Finally, it stopped dead dead, the power on button now inoperable.

A ticket to the Synology help desk elicited a test procedure that ultimately required the machine to re-start, which it would not. When the Spy suggested a possibly dead power supply the reply was that it was more likely the motherboard, as this model had some “known hardware problems” and had therefore been discontinued. Hmmm. The machine in question was a warrantee replacement for another 1815+ that had previously died. To be fair, the Spy still owns the machine that he had before that, a Synology 211+ (the second digit tells you the number of bays) that is running on his desk at work to this day, so some models at least have longevity. The rep’s last advice was that the machine being out of warrantee, I had no other choice but to buy a new machine.

A little miffed that they would offer no olive branch to an old (really old now) customer by way of, say, a modest discount, he priced the new model in that line, the 1821+ which seems to use the same case and trays, but boasts higher speeds and two NVMe slots for SSD cache without taking up a bay. Hmmm. Pricing, as one expects in most non-Apple markets, varies all over the map, but Newegg Canada, selling on eBay had the best deal at the time (since returned closer to typical retail), so he sprang for  the replacement machine and a Synology SNV3510-800G M.2 22110 NVMe SSD, also from Newegg, plus a cheap second main memory slug he picked up on eBay that was a new pull, likely from someone replacing it with two 8G slugs. Order total on the unit and SSD was $1800, and on the slug $36, with free shipping on the former but not the latter. Delivery should be next week on all three.

Why invest further in a product related to one where he’s already had two failures? Two reasons: (a) he has more than that invested in the disk drives. Yes they could go into some other product, but Synology normally has a good reputation so he is inclined to give benefit of the doubt. And, the service agent was polite, though under the circumstances he could have offered something to sweeten the pot–say an NVMe. (b) Familiarity had not yet bred contempt in this case. The Synology OS is easy to use, those boxes do a good job as a NAS, serve photos to his large screen Samsung TV well, and come with a free two-camera surveillance station license (next section). He has four more licenses. We shall see.

Finally, our reader will perhaps recall

last October’s column, which told the story of the break-in the Spy suffered while he took a few days vacation to recover following his wife’s memorial service. The thieves were probably spooked by the alarm system, but surely knew there was little chance of the police showing up in this rural area any time soon (it took 45 minutes–property crimes are never a priority in our crime-ridden society), so they grabbed Joyce’s jewellery and my best watches and took off. The Spy has been researching camera-based security systems ever since.

These come in essentially two flavours. One can purchase an all-in-one system of up to eight cameras complete with a video recording system to capture the footage (or is that metreage in Canada?) or, one can buy into a broader eco-system (Nest, Ring, Homekit…) boasting control from an existing Android or iOS device of outlets, lights, door sensors and other gizmos as well as the cameras. Most of the later also involve monthly fees for recording video.

The Spy wanted name brand, a stable supplier (once dominant Insteon went belly up and shut off its servers last month) broad integration with what he already has by way of technology, and at least some compatibility with Synology’s Surveillance Station for recording. One camera he considered was a Hikvision, but he ruled that supplier out as there is no telling what spyware the Chinese government may require to be installed in such products, and many governments have banned their sale. Is the Spy paranoid? Yes, but not as much paranoia as one learns to expect from totalitarian governments whose expertise is spying on its citizens for the purpose of brutally, even terminally, suppressing dissent.

He finally decided to require Homekit compatibility across the board so he could view his security devices on iPhone, MacOS, or AppleTV+, and went with Eufy and Logitech as suppliers, as both had generally favourable reviews for their products, Eufy is a large company that sells other products such as robot vacuum cleaners, and he has previous excellent experience with Logitech for keyboards and web cams.

Eufy, like several other such vendors, requires a local net gateway they call the Homebase 2 to connect many, though not all, their products. The Spy picked up a package of two Eufy 2C Pro indoor/outdoor cameras and the Homebase link on Amazon, plus two additional cameras of the same type, and two pan-tilt indoor cameras that are not Homebase compatible. All six are Homekit compatible. For his doorbell camera he chose a Logitech wired Circle View device, as the Eufy product was not Homekit compatible and it is. Logitech also sells a Homekit compatible indoor camera. 

Best place to purchase the Eufy products is either from their own site or on Amazon. They stage periodic sales promotions in both locations, so wait for a price reduction and check both before you buy. The Homebase package is sometimes available in a three or four camera bundle, but it was only the two-camera bundle and the add-on ones that were on sale at Amazon when the Spy finally bit. OTOH, the Logitech doorbell is price controlled by the company and was the same price everywhere, so the Spy bought from Apple Canada and picked it up from the closest Apple store that had stock (very badly designed web site for the purpose BTW).

It is critically important to follow camera installation instructions to the letter–especially the one where you are told to connect everything to the same wireless network. If, like the Spy, your telecom supplier’s modem broadcasts a Wi-Fi channel in addition to the one from your router, ensure before starting and throughout the process that the phone you use for adding devices is on the network where you want everything to end up–in the Spy’s case the innermost, that is the one on the router, as it is behind two firewalls. Otherwise you will end up removing and resetting devices, then  re-adding them in the proper place. Alas, that is exactly what the Spy had to do. Also, the Spy notes that local stores selling Eufy cameras charge a higher price for older models. Get the 2C Pro, not a lesser one. Oh, and when activating, let it upgrade its firmware.

But in the end, it all works. All the Eufy devices (so far three cameras installed outside and two inside) can be monitored in their app, and both they and the Logitech doorbell in Apple’s Home apps on IOS, MacOS and TVOS. Particular kudos to Logitech for the extraordinarily detailed instructions on installing the doorbell and connecting it to the existing chime and Homekit. Too bad the instructions have to be viewed on a website that is clumsy, hard to navigate backwards, impossible to print out for portability, and perhaps a little too pedantic and simplistic. The Spy did have to do some fancy re-wiring to move the new doorbell closer to the door than where the old button was located, and more to hook up the old chimes, but it all worked like a charm once he got everything on the same net.

All these cameras produce video at 2K, though viewing in Homekit is only at 1K. What about recording? The Eufy indoor PT units take a miniatureSD card and Eufy does offer a plan to store recordings. Apple has plans that require expansion of one’s iCloud account to a paid version in order to store more than one camera’s recordings (without using up your iCloud memory allotment!). Once the Synology Surveillance Station is set up, the Spy has a total of six licenses to store camera output there (the Eufy app BTW discovers the Synology NAS on the net, requests that you activate Surveilance Station, and is prepared to store there).

All in all a success so far, pending the arrival and setup of the new NAS. It gives the Spy some chance to deter break-ins, and a smaller one to catch the perps the next time.

Whew! Hethinks that is quite enough said for this month.

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He completed his fifty-second year as a high school and university teacher in 2022. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He was co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (dead tree and online formats), since the early 1980s, and he’s been a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. from 1972 to 2021, where he now continues alone, depending heavily on family to manage. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

  • The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
  • opundo : http://opundo.com
  • Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org
  • WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
  • WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
  • nameman : http://nameman.net

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books: 

  • Author Site: http://www.arjay.ca
  • Publisher’s Site: http://www.writers-exchange.com/Richard-Sutcliffe.html
  • The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http://www.arjay.bc.ca/EthTech/Text/index.html

Other URLs of relevant interest: 

  • BC Government COVID site: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19
  • TWU COVID Info: https://www.twu.ca/covid-19-information

URLs for products mentioned this month: 

  • Diamond Bar: https://www.diamondbarequipment.ca
  • Earth Tools: https://www.earthtools.com
  • Synology: https://www.synology.com/
  • The 1821+ on Newegg: https://www.ebay.ca/itm/174622056992?epid=7043521479&hash=item28a8492220:g:2nsAAOSwZiBgGYCu
  • Apple Homekit: https://www.apple.com/us/search/homekit?src=alp
  • Eufy: https://us.eufylife.com
  • Logitech: https://www.logitech.com
  • Apple: https://www.apple.com
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