My 2020 tech happenings

Posted by Paul Braren on Dec 31 2020 (updated on Jan 9 2021) in
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  • I took this photo above while parked at the top of Mount Washington in New Hamsphire. Beautiful clear skies ahead is the vibe I'm going for by choosing this pic.

    Yes, 2020 was memorable for some pretty terrible things. In this technical article, I'm focusing on the positive tech that impacted my live in positive ways in 2020. It's a public tech diary of sorts, written to my future self.


    Yes, it was a challenging year for everybody. In my household, my wife is a full time Registered Nurse. As you can imagine, what she has been going through every day is a LOT more than anything I've ever had to deal with in my nerd jobs. I've also been working harder at making sure I'm there for her, fully present, and I plan to continue this prioritization into 2021. Thankfully, as an IT worker, I feel quite fortunate to be able to safely work from home full time since March, which has been quite a contrast with the 25,000 miles I drove last year alone.


    • Only working at Dell Technologies since October 28 of 2019, I was focused on getting up to speed on so many CI and HCI technologies this month. For those days where I was needed in the office, I was so glad to have a Dell office right in Rocky Hill Connecticut, a mere 10 minute drive away, my first time in 30 years that my employer had an office so near by.
    • I encourage you to ignore most of what you read and get a test drive in an electric car next time you need to replace your vehicle, it will be very likely to change your outlook. Be sure to consider the TCO, not just the initial purchase price. EVs are the future, and it's great to see VW ID.4 and Ford Mustang Mach-E coming to the US now too.


    • This was my last month of in-person customer visits.
    • A highlight of this month was driving to the Fairfield County area of Connecticut, to meet folks who have been driving EVs far long than I, at the EV Club of CT. I didn't know a soul, but I'm sure glad I went. The attraction was to see the country's first Model 3 outfitted as a police cruiser, and to test the first Tesla V3 Supercharger anywhere in the Northeastern US. I also got to meet Owen Sparks, who drove all the way from the Boston area with his dad to get to this event to create a short film for a high school project, and now he has convinced his parents to get an EV too.



    I got to meet a few of my Dell colleagues early in March, and looking back at 2020 now, and I feel extra appreciative that I had a chance to meet them in person, at a safe distance.


    • VMware vSphere 7.0 was released, and of course I tested it immediately.

    • Folding@home refined and broadened to include all 4 of my freshly upgraded VMware ESXi 7.0 hosts.

    • Clean air pictures started surfacing from across the planet, a glimpse at what life could be like without fossil fuel emissions. I verified with some colleagues in India that what CNN wrote here was true.


    • It's far tougher to read an audience and a person's face on a Zoom, and with all the fatigue, many folks don't use their webcams nearly much as they did back in March and April.

    • Continuing to look into compact and quiet successors to the Xeon D-1541, realizing it would likely be 2021 before things got exciting again. It's ok, my Xeon D-1500 based systems are still working quite well, and I cannot justify replacing either of them just yet.

    • I grew increasingly worried that Supermicro might not continue supporting the best-selling SuperServer SYS-5028D-TN4T for use with vSphere 7.0, so I became even more determined to find a good path forward. Knowing that there are well over a thousand proud SuperServer Bundle owners out there, this was essential.
    SpaceX - Crew Demo-2 | Launch


    • No vacation plans, just enjoying outdoor visits with my wife and parents.


    • No vacation plans, just enjoying outdoor visits with my wife and parents.
    • I also started looking into clean air measuring devices for use inside and outside the home. This will prove useful in testing HEPA air filters for cars and homes later this year.


    • Thankfully, after months of polite but persistent prodding of my Supermicro contact, Wiredzone helped with getting this across the finish line, vSphere 7.0 support for the SuperServer Bundle is back!

    • My wife and I reached our 30th wedding anniversary, but we agreed to postpone any celebrations due mostly to travel restrictions. We also had to postpone our pre-booked 25th wedding anniversary celebration for work reasons. Someday.

    • I was a presenter at the Washington DC VMUG. It was quite an honor for always-friendly-and-warm Al Rasheed to have invited me. I knew so few folks in that area, despite my frequent travels to DC for prior job roles. I'll admit that not having immediate audience feedback via Zoom meeting made it tougher for me to read my audience, but on the bright side, turnout was far bigger than the usual in-person VMUG events. More inclusive.
    • I greatly enjoyed my experience with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, having been a flight sim enthusiast since the 1980s. It's impressive. But it was also clear that my 3-5 year old gear that I cobbled together wasn't anywhere near what was really needed. I did my best to make it work anyway, as I've been doing since the 1980s starting with my Commodore Vic-20. Back then I remember using IBM PCs with batch files (scripts) I created to decompresse games from slow storage onto RAM Disks so they'd start faster. Of course I spent hours tuning everthing in my system for speed, spending far more hours than I spent actually playing those games. I'm sure a few readers can relate to this sort of affliction ;)


    • With travel restrictions and a lucky break in landing a rental cabin in the woods of New Hampshire, my wife and I finally had a chance to drive up Mount Washington, a belated anniversary celebration and a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, safely. What an extra special experience this was, and super fun from a nerdy point of view (think of the regen going downhill!) and from a photography perspective too, full story here. This was definitely a highlight of the year for us.
      Paul Braren - Sep 21 2020 - Mt. Washington Auto Road in an electric vehicle is a beautiful, joyful and thrilling experience!


    • My article about new hybrid electric water heater that uses no natural gas hits new peaks of popularity, I'm quite happy about this, as it took a lot of work to write. It's the same heat-pump tech that extends the range of some EVs like the 2021 Model 3 and all Model Ys, and it's a harbinger of good HVAC things to come from Tesla down the road. Certainly gets me thinking about my next place to live, knowing that heat pumps are now quite possible even here in New England, with no gas lines or chimneys needed for your home.
    • FSDBeta (driving-assist on city streets) arrives, this was something I've been pondering for over 3 decades, full story at TinkerTry here.

    • My wife and I took up a new habit of taking little trips to area drive-throughs to safely get out and about. Sometimes I'd ask to park so I could do some plane spotting near BDL (Bradley Airport) after getting some ice cream at the Friendly's drive-through (which has now closed for good). Sometimes we'd head to farm stands for fresh food, exploring new-to-us areas of Connecticut. We rediscovered that it's the little things that really make our times together special. We learned to take regular breathers and step back from the stressors of work to simply take joy in being together, wherever. It doesn't hurt that New England is a nature show in the fall, as we tried to enjoy the outdoors as much as I can before winter sets it, during the few moments of spare time we had.

    • I met a JuiceBar employee who helped get a new public Level 2 charger in my hometown of Wethersfield (that was sitting idle for months) workings, and it's now listed on PlugShare here.


    • I was a presenter at the New Jersey VMUG, and I'm always so grateful to be asked to share my experiences. Again, attendance was far higher than in-person events, so this is one area where COVID seems to have helped the VMUG community meetings become a far more inclusive experience.

    • I did my biggest Zoom presentation yet, peaking at 500 Dell Technologies employees watching my presentation with colleague Jeremy Merrill, here's a quick snapshot I grabbed as I slowly learned to stop worrying about it and focus on what it was that I was saying. I confess to having very little sleep due to some home stuff going on the day before. But guess what, probably most of the folks listening were in a similar state most of this year, so I simply did the best that I could with a foggy brain.

    • Our two grown sons are well in their twenties, graduated with their masters, and gainfully employed full time for over 2 years now. Our oldest lives in Cambridge MA, our youngest in Pittsburgh PA. Due to COVID-related circumstance changes, our oldest son decided to take us up on our offer for him move back in for however long he needs to square away his co-leasing arrangements.
    • Not a bad perk that our newest household member returned home with a Valve Index VR kit, so naturally he's in the process of building his own system consisting of a Ryzen 5000 Series CPU and is waiting for a AMD Radeon RX 6800XT that might land in his Mac/Thunderbolt chassis, someday. Like everybody else waiting for the latest GPUs lately, it's going to be a long wait. It helps that I had some components on hand to limp along with during the wait, and a little space left in our home to set things up and leave them set up. Yes, the GIGABYTE 4 core Xeon D-2123IT coupled with an AMD Radeon RX 580 and an Intel Optane 900P are buying us some time, and can run flight simulator on an old 42" Sony LCD TV at 1920x1080 with medium settings, yielding us around 30 fps flying over Manhattan, and around 90 fps for VR titles like Space Pirate Trainer or Half Life Alyx.


    • My Model 3 turned 2 on Dec 23rd, and my wife's Model 3 turned 1 on Dec 17th. We remain very happy with our mutual decision to go all EV. We were shopping for a safe, reliable, and efficient car to replace our aging Honda Civics, and boy did Tesla ever deliver, with more smiles per mile than anything I've ever driven. I know it's just a car, but oh what a joy the electric driving experience has been, and oh what a blessing to have long (>250 miles!) range in these days of avoiding airports, and the occasional 480 mile road trip to Pittsburgh. Over time, as our energy grid becomes greener, so does our driving, with so many Superchargers blanketing the country, see also MDBHD/Marques Brownlee's recent video about this.

    • I'm hoping we can ditch our gas powered mower and snow blower someday soon, with Ego being the company to watch, or listen to fellow New Englander Matt Ferrell on Undecided, 46: Everything is Torque! Talking About Electric Snowblowers, Smart Homes, and More.

    • Having seen Falcon Heavy launch from Florida 2 years ago with my oldest son, it was extra special to get to watch the SpaceX Starship make it's first attempt at doing a back-flip landing on our new TV. Not the same as being there, but still quite fun to really have no idea what might happen next. Such amazing maneuvers, wow, just wow.
      SpaceX's Biggest Starship Flight Is A Spectacular Success Even After Crash Landing
    • After 10 years of Sony 55" LED TV at 1080 in our home’s family room, we finally went all in with 4K, at 65" of glorious OLED in HDR. Cyber Monday actually paid off in a big way with Best Buy pulling through on getting me this season's entry-level hotness at $350 off, and it was available for pick-up locally! Yes, the #1 rated OLED65CXPUA, see also Product Page - LG CX 65 inch Class 4K Smart OLED TV w/ AI ThinQ®, Best Buy listing, and LG OLED CX TV review: The picture against which all other TVs are measured. Watching Planet Earth II - Jungles from Netflix in 4K with my family was the best visual experience I've had in 5 decades plus on this planet, quite a joy for me personally. We even watched good old Hunt for Red October, wow that's a dark movie. Both challenged my previous LED backlit TV greatly with obvious bloom and backlighting zones, with all sorts of light bleed and other artifacts that always bothered me. Gladly I was able to (mostly) keep my 10+ year old amplifier and 15+ year old 5.1 speaker set with subwoofer going, but it wasn't easy to get the video out from the TiVo EDGE to the two rooms upstairs using a 75' HDMI cable and a HDMI to CAT5a transmitter/receiver pair. Blogging about that project will need to wait for another day, as I'm still not quite there yet, but wow DRM/HDCP sure is a pain.
    • I also assisted with creating the Electric Vehicle Club of Connecticut's YouTube Channel and Twitter account @EVClubCT. They've been around since 2009, consisting of electric vehicle enthusiasts evangelizing the rapid adoption of EVs, with a blog at

    • Just before Christmas, our 25 year old home decided to have a basement leak spring up. It was just after midnight on December 23rd when I spotted a YouTube video in my feed featuring the new Flight Sim 2020 patch that enables VR. I figured I'd stop by the basement to kick off the massive patch before nodding off, only to be greeted by wet feet. Argh. Yes, the sound of a jackhammer rang through our home, on Christmas Eve! But thankfully, the proper patching got done, and the 4" of rain expected on Christmas was no longer a huge concern. Well, it turns out that on Christmas day afternoon, the chimney area of our roof leaked a little rainwater right onto our new 65" TV. Uh oh. Gladly, a quick peek behind the TV's easily removed back cover revealed that no electrical components got wet, on a plastic panel had a few drops. We sure dodged a bullet on that one. I also had routine procedure on my arm and shoulder that made sleep and lifting extra challenging lately, but that's all behind me now, and my typing speed is back now too, and the house is fixed up like new again.
    • I’ve been doing all family grocery runs for my home and my nearby parents home every 10 days. Supermarket WiFi, FaceTime, and AirPods have been invaluable tools for nearly every one of those missions. Hardly a big deal compared to the home schooling many families are contending with lately, or maybe elder care, or dealing with losing loved ones.
    • Looking back, I feel that the technical marvel of developing an mRNA method of vaccination will be seen as quite the watershed moment in humanity's history, you can mark my words on that one. I'm also quite glad to have shown my young sons and wife around the Pfizer lab atrium in Groton Connecticut a long time ago, back when I was doing some contract work there. And now here we are, with a family member in healthcare getting her Moderna COVID vaccine already, and my wife due to get her Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in January.

    • Last night, my youngest son received his (Dell-Dad-employee discounted) Alienware system with Ryzen 7 that he ordered, specifically the Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition. That's one way to get the coveted NVIDIA 3070 that's pretty near impossible to buy elsewhere, just get a system with it! Earlier today, my oldest son got word the RAM he needs to finish his custom Ryzen build just came in at the local Best Buy. Buy vs. build. Maybe I can actually play Flight Simulator 2020 in VR soon. It's certainly fun to building a system together, kind of like I did back in 2011 with his little brother. Stay tuned!

    I'm well aware of the strife, justified growth of social injustice fury, and over-the-top political misery of 2020, but again, this article is focused on a handful of brighter spots in my personal life as we mostly just holed up and stayed safe this year.


    So that's it, another year is in the can, with June of 2021 marking 10 years since I started I know I'm looking forward to this milestone, and I have dozens of articles in my draft folder just waiting for me help them finally see the light of day, and many new ideas in store too. I hope to see you back at TinkerTry again in 2021, and I thank you, every one of you, for your readership!

    See also at TinkerTry

    See also

    Boston Dynamic - Dec 29 2020 - Do You Love Me?
    SpaceX - Starship | SN8 | High-Altitude Flight Recap, starting at the incredible flip maneuver, and in 4K, watch on a big screen