My Verizon 4G LTE Rural Internet Setup

I’ve had a few people ask for more details on my rural internet setup with Verizon, so here it is…

Wilson 4G LTE Antenna

I use a CradlePoint MBR95 3G/4G Router ($130, it’s expensive but I have tried several cheaper 3G/4G routers–CradlePoint is the one to get.  It’s well worth the extra money).  Since switching to this router a few months ago I have not had a single connection drop.  

cradlepoint_router

I bought a 4G Novatel 551L USB Modem ($25) which is plugged into the CradlePoint, and just recently I installed a Wilson 4G LTE Antenna kit ($80–the antenna adapter fits the external antenna port on Millenicom’s Novatel MiFi, the Novatel USB modem above, and my Samsung S3 / S4) to see if it would increase performance on my Verizon Wireless connection… and it did!  Signal went from -81 to -63 dBm (I think that’s quadrupling the signal strength?) and internet speed went from 12Mbps/3Mbps to 20Mbps/15Mbps!

signal_strength

Signal strength from -81 to -63 dBm after installing antenna

3276998117

12 down 3 up with no antenna

 

3277005073

20 down 15 up after installing Antenna

Verizon WIreless Data Options

1. Millenicom

Millenicom uses Verizon’s network and has a great data plan at $70 for 20GB/month (the same amount of data from Verizon would run $185/month).  One thing I really like about Millenicom is you can get a static IP for an extra $10/month.  Unfortunately I was getting my internet cut off because my family goes way over 20GB/month so that didn’t work for me–especially when I couldn’t access online accounts to pay bills. But if you won’t go over 20GB in a month I’ll say I had nothing but a good experience with them.  The best feature is if you go over they cut you off instead of charging overage fees—Verizon currently charges overages at a rate of $15/GB.

2. Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plan

Verizon doesn’t offer unlimited data plans anymore, but if you had one you’re grandfathered into it.  And it’s possible to transfer someone else’s grandfathered plan into your name.  So I bought a Verizon Wireless grandfathered unlimited 4G data plan from someone on Howard Forums Take over my plan forum (you can also buy them from eBay, they’re a little pricier there but the transaction will be safer).

The process went like this:  Ahead of time I bought a Verizon Samsung S3 phone with a clean ESN off eBay (you need an Android phone, you can’t activate the plan on a USB modem) and a Verizon SIM card off ebay.  After the seller and I agreed on $175 I sent the money to him via PayPal and gave him my name, he called Verizon’s Assumption of Liability (AOL) department to tell them I’d be taking over the line, then he gave me the number I would be taking over.  I called Verizon’s AOL department and told the rep the number, she verified the details on the plan and then transferred the line into my name…I didn’t have a Verizon account so I had to set one up over the phone and they will run a credit check–and Verizon does a hard pull so don’t do this before buying a house or taking out a loan.  During this process it’s very important not to switch to one of Verizon’s newer plan’s that will drop unlimited data.  I made sure the rep knew I wanted to keep unlimited data.  After it was switched into my name I gave the rep my phone’s MEID number and SIM card number and activated the phone… it took awhile, maybe 5 minutes.  I made a test call and tested data with the rep still on the line.  It all worked!  Once it was activated I moved the SIM card over to my USB modem (which Verizon allows).

The plan I got is the NationWide 450 (there’s no way to drop the voice part of the plan even if you don’t need voice) with unlimited data.  I was able to have the rep disable texting.  This runs me about $65/month including taxes with my 18% corporate discount.

The only thing I’ve been disappointed in is they give me an IP address behind a NAT so I can’t host this blog from my house any more.  Verizon does offer a static IP for a one time fee of $500.  If I knew that Verizon would allow me to keep unlimited data for at least 3-years or give me a refund on the static if they canceled my plan I’d do it…but without a guarantee I don’t want to take the risk.  I run a SoftEther VPN server in a VM on my Microserver which uses a UDP hole punching technique to get around the NAT so I can still get into my home network to access files on my ZFS server and such.

verizon_unlimited_data_bar

I’m grateful that Verizon is still allowing grandfathered plans on their network so while I’m no longer careful about internet usage I try not to abuse it.  I have all my data intensive processes like CrashPlan backups run only between 1am-4am when I figure Verizon has plenty of bandwidth and spectrum available.

Of course, Verizon may discontinue grandfathered unlimited plans in the future… but I hope it lasts until someone brings DSL, cable, or fiber to my house.

SHA256 Hash Stored Procedure for SQL Server 2008

The other day I was writing an ETL where I expected duplicate data to be accidentally sent over quite often so I needed an SHA-256 function to guarantee that a set of incoming rows were unique (notice I said the set of rows, not individual rows so that rules out using an index to prevent duplicates).  SQL Server 2012 has it but for this project I was stuck on SQL Server 2008 R2 which only has an SHA-1 function (obviously not good enough).

So here’s an SHA-256 stored procedure I wrote for SQL Server 2008…

 

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Update 2013-12-23: Using the internet access on my phone I’ve moved the website to another server (thanks Jeff!)  So the website is back up.  

My internet is going down until Jan 1st.

Looks like I forgot to disable my CrashPlan backup again (unfortunately CrashPlan doesn’t offer a way to stop backing up to CrashPlan online while still performing local backups… I can manually pause CrashPlan but if I don’t do it every 24 hours it starts back up again).

—–

Hi Benjamin Bryan,

We have been alerted by the upstream carrier that you have exceeded usage on your 20GB Plan.   Please note that your account has a monthly usage cap of 20GB.   Your usage is 46.88GB as of 12/22/13.   In order for us to continue service this month you will need to purchase an additional account or choose to have your service temporarily suspended until 01/01/14.    To move forward with maintaining your account for this month you will need to purchase an additional plan. The cost for today would be:   $99.99 Device Purchase $19.99 Reduced Activation Fee $15.00 Shipping + Prorated Monthly Service   Service will be suspended at the end of today. If you would like to purchase an additional Hotspot plan, please let us know. Below, we have provided some ways to track your data usage. This information can be found on our website as well. We look forward to hearing from you soon.   -Millenicom

——

Phil Robertson Suspended for His Faith

 

drudge report duck dynasty

 

I saw the above headline on the Drudge Report last night.  I just discovered the show a few months ago and have been enjoying it, it’s a great clean humorous show with good American and Christian values.  Normally I just read the headlines, but in this case I had to see what all the fuss was about.

Excerpts from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/duck-dynastys-phil-robertson-indefinite-666808, cited December 19, 2013.  (my emphasis noted in bold):

 

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E said in a statement. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

GLAAD on Wednesday condemned his remarks as “some of the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication” and said “his quote was littered with outdated stereotypes and blatant misinformation.”

“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe,” GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz said. “He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”

GLAAD responded to A&E’s suspension, commending the network for its swift decision. “What’s clear is that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers, and networks alike,” GLAAD’s Cruz said late Wednesday. “By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.”   <– I don’t think I’m the only one that sees the irony in this!

The Human Rights Campaign also slammed Robertson for his statements.

“Phil Robertson’s remarks are not consistent with the values of our faith communities or the scientific findings of leading medical organizations,” president Chad Griffin said in a statement. “We know that being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful. We also know that Americans of faith follow the Golden Rule — treating others with the respect and dignity you’d wish to be treated with. As a role model on a show that attracts millions of viewers, Phil Robertson has a responsibility to set a positive example for young Americans — not shame and ridicule them because of who they are. The A+E Network should take immediate action to condemn Phil Robertson’s remarks and make clear they don’t support his views.

I’ve only watched the first season, but a positive example is exactly what Phil sets.  What did Phil say that was so “vile and extreme”?  I decided to read the actual interview here http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson and what they’re so offended by is something Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Phil is paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)

There is nothing hateful or vile in Phil’s remarks.  A&E didn’t suspend Phil Robertson for vile or extreme remarks against homosexuals.  They didn’t suspend him for discriminating.  A&E suspended him for his belief, or rather, talking about his belief in the the Bible.  This sounds like discrimination against Phil’s beliefs to me.

It will be interested to see how this plays out.  As far as I can tell there are a lot of fans outraged by the decision all over Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc.  I even read a comment from a gay fan saying that even though he disagrees with Phil he thinks Phil should have the right to free speech.  The governor of Louisiana has also criticized A&E over their decision.  http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/12/jindal_criticizes_television_n.html

Related headlines from Drudge:

 

Quicken 2014. Horrible.

Dear Intuit,

I’ve been a long time Quicken user, my dad taught me to use Quicken for DOS to track money in my “Bank of Dad” account. My current Quicken file which I started in college after opening my bank account has data back since 2001. For the last 12-years I’ve loyally purchased a new version of Quicken every couple of years.  Unfortunately Quicken has started going downhill about the time you acquired Mint and it’s getting worse.  When I bought Quicken 2013 it was pretty buggy, so I decided to give you a year and upgrade to 2014 which I assumed would fix most of the issues.  Boy was I ever wrong.

quicken_projected_balancesI’ve been so frustrated with Quicken that I have tried other solutions but they fall short. Mint, GnuCash, and MoneyDance don’t have nearly all the features I use. For example, Quicken’s Projected balances is unmatched by any competitor.  It knows I pay my credit cards in full every month, every recurring or future transaction is reflected in there so I can look out at the next 90 days and make sure none of the accounts are going to go into the red.  I don’t know of another tool that has cash flow management like this.

Another great feature is investment tracking, Quicken is pretty bad at managing asset allocation, but it does a great job at tracking performance and stock splits and cost basis.  I don’t know of another personal finance management software that can produce an IRR (Internal Rate of Return) report with a graph like this.

quicken_investment_performance

So, let’s get to the problems.  Overall there’s a lack of polish.  For example, QC didn’t catch this question.

quicken_upgrade

Anyway, I tried to upgrade but it takes me to this page with a broken image and an “Add to Cart” button that doesn’t do anything.  (Did anybody even check this before it was released?)  I finally figured out how to get the Rental Property edition by going to another page but it wasn’t obvious.

quicken_expenseMy budgets have been wrecked.  Budgeting was very easy in Quicken 2011, since 2013 it looks like some sort of hybrid Mint/Quicken budget and the interface is very slow–I’m assuming because it has to render the red and green bars that I don’t really care for.  If all I’m doing is entering a number it shouldn’t take longer than entering a number on a spreadsheet. What is this Budget item for “Expense”?!  I don’t have an “Expense” category, I don’t want an Expense category.  When I right-click the Expense category there’s no option to remove it.  When I view the transactions in “Expense” it’s showing me items that are actually in other budget categories like Life Insurance, Travel, transfer to 401k, and Utilities!  Is the budgeting tool double counting my expenses?  I don’t know!  It appears to be some catchall category for every outflow of cash but I don’t want it.  There’s another one like it called “Office Expenses” that has no reason to be in my budget that seems to capture random transactions that have nothing to do with Office Expenses, and I don’t even have an Office Expenses category and I’d like it gone as well.  I don’t want these in my budget.

quicken_budget_optionsThe Budget Reports are broken.  One thing that’s important to me is I budget some transfers to make sure we maintain a positive cash-flow (or manageable deficit spending).  For example, if I regularly transfer money from checking to savings I actually budget the transfer because I need to know that the money isn’t available for spending.  When I run the “Current Budget” report I have ‘Non-Zero actual/budgeted’ selected but some (not all) of my budgeted transfers don’t show up on the budget report even though they are in the budget!  I can’t manage my budget with buggy reports like this!

quicken_sub_categoriesFortunately, I happened to have a saved custom budget report from a previous version of Quicken that still works… sort of.  I can run the report and it shows Non-Zero actual/budgeted items for transfers like it should.  However, I often like to run a report that fits on a single page to give to Kris and to do that I hide the subcategories.  Whether I’m showing or hiding sub-categories my Budget Net Difference should be the same right?  Nope.  Showing sub-categories I have a Budgeted Net Difference of $200 per month.  If I hide sub-categories I have a Budgeted Net Difference of several thousand per month.  Hidden Sub-Categories should roll-up into their parent categories on the report (and they used to in Quicken 2011).  Now the report is just wrong in 2014.  So right now the only way I can get an accurate budget report is to use the saved custom budget report I made in a previous version of Quicken, and it only works if I show sub-categories!  That is bad Intuit.  Bad.

quicken_syncAlso, the entire reason I upgraded from Quicken 2013 to Quicken 2014 is the latter version was supposed to fix a lot of bugs synchronizing to mobile devices that were in Quicken 2013.  However, things haven’t improved much for me.  Whenever I sync Quicken will do one of the following:  It will hang synchronizing to the cloud but never finishes (I even let it go for an hour).  Or it will say “Com Error” and crash or it will crash with error code 7237 while trying to send budgets.

crash_sending_budgets

I just want the software to work.  I’ve been in this mess for one year, and due to there not really being a good competitor I’ll try to tolerate some bugs for a little while longer.  My patience won’t last forever.  Intuit, get your software working!

Your customer since 2001,

Ben