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Showing posts from 2007

A Free Internet Backup Service

For years I've had an RSYNC backup solution for my immediate family's computers. Each computer would perform a remote RSYNC over SSH to my home Linux box on a daily basis. It worked great, but it was a pain in the butt for a few reasons:Lots of parts to maintain.A lack of on-disk encryption.No easy restoration process.Required me to have a server powered up all the time.
Recently, I stumbled upon a Mac and Windows internet backup solution for the grand price of Free. It's called Mozzy Home, and its pretty darn good for the following reasons:
It's free for the first 2 GB of storageIt supports encryption - Mozy can't even see your file content (but it does appear that they can see your filenames and directory structure)
It is super easy to set upThe client software is pretty good, and supports easy restores.You can get a free Mozy Home account here (shameless referral code attached):

The biggest limitation with the (free) Mozy Home is…

Porsche Key Remote Battery Repair Video How-To

We now live in the age where part of your life is spending time and money maintaining and repairing things like your car keys.

My Porsche's remote key was getting weaker and weaker, until one day it stopped operating altogether. Keyless remote without the remoteness. Not so good.

I was a bit fearful spending a sizable chunk of my time and money at the dealership to have such a small problem addressed, and so I decided that I would try to replace the battery myself.

The following video guide shows you how to successfully open up the key and replace the alarm remote battery.

Items required:
A clear work surfaceA small blade-type screw driver.A quality CR-2032 Battery, available here. Nothing feels better than a $5 Porsche repair.  Replace the battery in all your keys at once and then don't deal with it again for years!

CFL Globes: Good and Bad

Some Globe-style CFLs are sucky.

As you know from reading my blog, I'm a fan of not throwing away my hard-earned cash. So it was obvious for me to replace my incandescent bulbs with much more efficient CFL bulbs. My conversion saved me quite a bit of money, but there was one trouble-spot: the CFL globes I installed in the bathroom.

I have one of those old-fashioned bar fixtures in the bathroom, designed for a set of three exposed globe-style bulbs, and so only globe style bulbs would look right in the fixture. I use my bathroom quite a bit, and the fixture with incandescent bulbs would normally require 180 watts to power (3 bulbs @ 60 watts each). Replacing them with CFLs seemed like an easy target for reducing electricity costs. "No problem!" I thought, since globe CFLs are readily available in retail stores.

My 1980's Style Bathroom Light Bar with Globe CFLs.
GE CFL in the center, Sylvanias on each side.

I bought a set of three 14 Watt "Commercial Electric&qu…

Electricity Usage Update: 12% reduction

I reduced my electricity consumption by 12% this year (2007) versus last year (2006). I consumed an average of 110 KWH of electricity per month during 2007, as shown on the chart below:

Now that I've done all the cheap and easy things to reduce consumption, and so I don't know if I can save so much more next year. I've done everything I could easily pursue, including:
replacing old fashioned light bulbs with CFLsturning of my computer equipment, lights, and other stuff when it's not in active usereducing equipment that consumes lots when doing nothing (such as my old VCR)adjusting my fridge properlySo, any ideas of what else I can do? Since I live in an apartment, I can't readily upgrade my fridge (which averages around 50 watts). I could buy a new LCD TV, but I'm not much of a TV watcher so that doesn't seem like it'd be a good move.

Why do clock radios suck?

Most people keep a clock radio within a few feet of their head for nearly a third of their life. A clock radio tells people when to wake up hundreds of time a year. So then why do most clock radios sold in the US suck?

They all seem to have crappy buttons, an even crappier tuner, and in short, have failed to go through any substantial technology update since the advent of the LED clock - over 25 years ago.

Why can't now be the dawning of the age of the modern clock radio?

Here's what I'm looking for in a clock radio:
Large, adjustable-brightness display.Digital tuning, with presets.Automatic clock setting.RDS - Radio Data Service.Very low power consumption.Excellent battery backup.Reasonable price.Decent buttons and switches.These "requirements" aren't some sort of crazy dream - many very small, low cost devices have some of these features.

The Yamaha DD-65 and YDD-60 Digital Drums

Almost everyone I know who is into drums should get their hands on the Yamaha DD65. It's a low cost, fun little kit that you can throw in your car to jam with your buddies. It's a lot easier than throwing your gear in your Subaru.

The DD-65, also known as the YDD-60. Eight pads in a pretty package.
I've owned the older, venerable DD-55 for about five years. The DD-55 is the ancestor of the newer DD-65, and is an evolution of the DD-50, which was first released some time in the mid 1990s.

I just put my DD-55 on this light snare drum stand it's ready for some jamming.

The classic DD-55. Seven pads of rockin' fun, since about 2001.
Yes, everyone will tell you that the DD-55 isn't actually a real drum kit. No kidding. However, a skilled drummer can get some great sound out of this little box, and you can definitely keep the band together with it. Plus, it's perfect for apartment living.

The Mac Mini Discontinued?

There are rumors that the Mac Mini is going to be discontinued. I disagree. Instead, I think it will evolve by being merged in with the Apple TV product. Of course, I don't work for Apple, so I have no idea if my plan is workable. But I do think that it is a possibility, as it considers:
Leveraging current engineering projectsReducing manufacturing costsSimplifying the product lineStaying reasonable in terms of product costs
Here's my thought of how I would converge the Apple TV and Mac Mini concept into one compelling product:
Stick the guts of a MacBook into an Apple TV sized caseDrop out the LCD, the battery, the keyboard, the DVDDrop in a (cheaper, bigger) 3.5 inch HDD drive, in lieu of a 2.5" notebook drive.
Add various Video Out optionsProvide a standard MacBook power brick
Now you've got a fully capable computer - a computer as powerful as a MacBook - that basically cost nothing to engineer (other than reboxing the thing). You still have a computer that is ess…

A tip of my hat for the new Roomba

I really hate vacuuming, and so I vacuum as little as possible. However, in contrast to my hate of vacuuming, I love a clean house. And so I either find myself vacuuming (yuk), or living in a not-so-clean house (yuk).

So to reduce my emotional distress related to vacuuming, I recently bought a Roomba. Here are my impressions and some tips:

Efficacy of the Roomba

The Roomba certainly keeps my floors clean. I'll still have to get out the traditional vacuum to clean the moldings, window sills, and some tricky spots (like behind my desk), but the bulk of my vacuuming effort has gone away.

The Roomba is not nearly as fast as the local cleaning service - but it does do a good job of covering all accessible floor surfaces. My routine: I get up in the morning, and just before I leave for work, I ask the Roomba to vacuum a particular room in my house. By the time I get home, the room's floor has been cleaned and Roomba has recharged itself.

The Roomba can miss some pockets of dirt.…

Prius owners and Biofuel users beware!

I'm sorry to say that driving a Prius or making your own biofuel doesn't make you "green". These things might make you feel good, and they might reduce the world's energy consumption by a few BTUs.

But you can be very "green" by spending NO money at all.

I'm not anti-Prius, and I'm not against biofuel. In fact, I think they're both cool. And I'm certainly not an environmental wacko. I'm just a pragmatist.

In the end, reducing your purchases, investing money wisely (say, in a new fridge or in CFL bulbs), and recouping money on your prior expenditures is, in the end, a very green strategy that can help minimize your negative impact on the environment.

And now, the six most important environmental tips you've been waiting for!...
Buy less new stuff. The stuff you buy requires substantial energy and materials to produce, package, and ship. The less crap you buy, the better for the environment. Remember that factories require a lot …

CFLs and outdoor timers

For the longest time I used incandescent light bulbs on my outdoor light fixtures, primarily because I had a rather ugly looking timer that only supported incandescent bulbs. I'm totally dumbfounded why retailers and manufacturers seem to focus on electrical products that don't support fluorescent lighting, but that's another story.

So I have looked high and low for a timer that met my "simple" requirements:
wall-mountable, programmable timerdecent looking (or at least not butt-ugly)compatible with CFLsnot insanely expensiveI went to Home Depot, Lowes, and the little neighborhood hardware store without finding anything that met my simple requirements.

Happily, I can announce that I found a decent programmable timer that met all my requirements: It's the Swylite LST100. They don't seem to be available in many traditional retail stores.

It works great, and it looks awesome. It was easy to install, and I've had no issues with it. Now I can save some m…

Ripping CDs Quickly

My cheap-but-effective CD-ROM Unit

I decided to re-rip my CD collection in a lossless format. Happily, my new ripping experience was fast and reliable.

During my last ripping exercise, I used Linux as my OS of choice, and I ripped to MP3. The experience was mostly excellent. But due to a hard disk failure, I decided to re-rip one more time - this time, to a lossless format.

I chose the Apple Lossless format - a well-supported and efficient format. One beauty of a lossless format is that the data can be converted into another lossless format without any loss of quality - just in case audio file formats change in the future. I also considered using FLAC lossless, which I believe would have been another excellent choice.

My hardware: I used my Mac Mini, along with four inexpensive CD-ROM drives attached via IDE-to-USB adapters. This allowed me to rip four discs in parallel, greatly increasing my ripping performance. I suppose I could have hooked up more drives, but I only had four ada…

Who is at phone number 10000123456?

Today, while walking my dog, my telephone started to ring - but I hesitated answering, because I didn't recognize the weird phone number:

Do you want to know who is at the strange phone number of 10000123456?

Well, it turns out that this is a generic phone number that is used when people are calling you via Skype?  But how can you find out exactly who is on the other end?

All I know is that Skype is pretty awesome when using a great Smartphone.   Check it out: Using a Smartphone to make Skype calls can feel like you're using a real phone, but is actually using Skype.  

So remember, if you see the number 1-000-012-3456 or "1 000 012 3456" or similar, you might want to answer - it could be very important, and not a random sales pitch!

Putting photos on a map using GPS

I was planning to go on vacation to Yosemite, and I got it in my head that I'd like to be able to build a map of where my photos were taken. It turns out to be shockingly easy.

Hardware Required
A digital camera. I have a Canon SD400. Almost any digital camera will do.
A handheld GPS. I have a Garmin eTrex Vista Cx, but almost any GPS with data export capabilities will suffice.
Figure 1: GPS data plus Digital Photos can produce JPEG photos with location data and KML files for Google Maps or Google Earth.

From the camera's vantage point: Photos with EXIF data

A digital camera often stores the date and time within the photo. The camera also stores tons of other chunks of data within the photo: the camera model, shutter speed, zoom settings, and numerous other parameters. This data is stored inside the JPEG file using a standard called EXIF, and just about every modern digital camera supports this format.

From the GPS angle: Track points

While your GPS is on, it is collecting data a…

Mac USB Parallel printer adapters

Now I am able to use my old HP LaserJet printer like a champ with Mac OS X - by using a low cost USB parallel printer adapter and a little bit of magic software.

USB to Parallel adapters are inexpensive little adapters (generally under $20) that allow you to connect a printer using the old "parallel" connector standard over USB. There are generally two kinds of parallel interfaces on a printer: Either the 36-pin Centronics-style connector, or the 25-pin D-shaped printer connector. My HP used the bulkier 36-pin connector, so I bought an adapter with that style connector.

The low-cost USB-to-Parallel adapter I use with my Mac

But it all wasn't as easy as it should have been - even though I pluged it all together, my USB to Parallel adapter would either lock up after a single print job, or it wouldn't be detected by the Mac at all. I suffered with the situation for months, and even imagined purchasing a more modern printer. But perseverance paid off - I got it all to…

How much energy do YOU use?

Ever since my electricity savings kick, which started in October 2003, I have saved in a big way. In fact, I once used 170% more electricity than I do now. Here's a plot of my actual consumption:

In 2001, the per-capita home electricity consumption rate for electricity in my state was 2,816 kWh per year - a number I managed to exceed by about 10% back then. This year I'm running at about 1,260 kWh per year - less than half of the average person. As always, there is room to improve.