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Showing posts from 2010

Dell X200 Keyboard Replacement

Well, the old Dell X200's keyboard gave up the ghost. Not entirely, but the good old backspace key stopped working, and it's really hard to use a keyboard without a backspace key.

Happily, it was easy to fix, as follows:
Buy a replacement keyboard (I bought my "like new" replacement keyboard through eBay for about $20)Remove the batteryUnscrew the six screws from the bottom of the Dell marked with a (K)Lever out the old keyboard from the bottom left. There is a little latch there.
Before fully removing the keyboard, un-snap the ZIF ribbon connectorRemove the keyboard completely
Slide the new keyboard into placePush the keyboard cable into the ZIF connector; lock the ZIF connectorScrew the keyboard back in place with the six screwsReinstall the batteryThe end result? My 8 year old Dell X200 laptop is still running strong! It'd be awesome to get 3 more years out of it. Its only real limitation is it's limited RAM.

MacBook Keyboard & Trackpad Replacement Fix

My MacBook keyboard and trackpad has worn out to the point where it was hard to use. The trackpad and its button was behaving poorly, and the keys were less than perfect. Furthermore, the "palm rest" was stained and developed a crack.

Figure 1: The Yukky old keyboard/trackpad. Cracked, stained, and worn out.
But excitingly, there is a simple fix! I've replaced the keyboard and trackpad with new ones - and it was easy to do and inexpensive! It was the best thing I've done to my MacBook ever. This article covers what I did.

Figure 2: My clean new keyboard & trackpad! Awesome!

Background: The MacBook Top Case design

The MacBook keyboard and trackpad are integrated into a single part called the "MacBook Top Case". Due to the MacBook's design, you just can't replace the keyboard or the trackpad - you have to replace the entire "Top Case".

That sounds bad, but it really isn't, because the "Top Case" part is relatively i…

Great gifts for the iPhone 4

You've made a great decision to buy an iPhone 4. It has become the love of your life, and now you want to buy it gifts. What should you buy? Here are the things that I bought - and love.

1. Grantwood FM transmitter with integrated car charger.

Awesome iPhone 4 compatible Grantwood FM Transmitter

If you have a car, this is one of the best gifts you can buy for your iPhone 4: The awesome iPhone 4 compatible Grantwood FM transmitter that has a built-in car charger. So you can listen to Pandora and listen to GPS directions all through your car's FM stereo... and keep it charged while you're at it. And it works exclusively through the dock connector, so there is no fooling around with extra cables or fiddling with the volume control. It works great for me, and is a solid bargain. I know - I bought one and I love it. I use it almost every time I drive.

2. Spare Charger and cable.

Spare iPhone Charger

Spare aftermarket chargers are standards-based and inexpensive. And so I ke…

Fix a bad MacBook trackpad

The Problem: A Poorly-Behaving Trackpad Button
MacBook trackpads buttons are going bad. Happily, there is a quick and technically-simple fix that may work for many MacBook owners with a misbehaving trackpad.

A few months ago I started to notice that my trackpad was operating in a funky manner. The trackpad button had lost its solid click and turned mushy. As I typed the trackpad button would mistakenly register clicks, and the cursor would jump all over the place; The cursor would jump around and my words would end up jumbled. Or a button press wouldn't register at all, and I'd end up trying to smash down of the button with no response. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had with a keyboard and mouse.

I tried every technique I could find on the web to try to fix my bad trackpad button – from sliding paper through the gap around button, to MacBook disassembly and vacuuming everything. Nothing made it better. My MacBook was fairly unusable, and getting worse.

After endl…

Mac Mini is a bargain.

Recently, I was asked by a good friend to help her buy a new Windows Desktop PC.

I recommended that she buy a PC with something other then a near-obsolete processor - meaning a machine with an Intel Core2Duo or better, as I believe that a computer with a decent processor will have a good chance of not becoming obsolete as soon. Atom, Pentium, and Celeron are too close to being obsolete.

And I also recommended that she get a machine with Windows 7 instead of the now-deprecated Windows Vista.

And after I described what makes a decent desktop PC, I started to shop for one. And that's when I discovered that the Mac Mini is a bargain.

A bargain mid-ranged desktop computer

I went to the popular brand web sites: Dell, Compaq, HP, Gateway, ACER, etc. And I found that a machine of this class generally starts around $500+. And that for $500, you don't get wireless, bluetooth, or sometimes even speakers. WTF???

In contrast, the base model $599 Mac Mini is very well specified - it has a g…

Trendnet TEW-652BRP and DD-WRT Success!

I recently visited my dad while on a business trip when I coincidentally discovered that DD-WRT is now available for his TEW-652. The TEW-652BRP has been a great router for my father, but it isn't what I'd call "feature rich". An upgrade to DD-WRT is a big bonus.

I live 2500 miles away from my non-technical father, and so a well-specified router that helps me manage his network remotely is important to both of us.

This article will explain what I did to finally get DD-WRT working on my TEW-652BRP v1.0R.

About the TEW-652brp

It's a nice looking little black 802.11n, 2.5 GHz router. It was amazingly inexpensive (usually way under $30), and the TEW-652brp is available through Amazon. Mine is a version 1.0R, you'll likely want the same version. Out of the box, it works quite well - it has been stable, and I was fairly happy with the stock firmware. But it was short on features - I like having VPN, SSH, and flexible DHCP services on the home networks I suppo…

Living Next to a Freeway

I've been living next to the interstate highway for the past couple years. And I mean right next to it. My house is less than 100 feet away from a major six lane freeway. I can see vehicles pass by from my living room.

Let me tell you what that's like to live next to the freeway, and what to look for if your considering moving near a major traffic artery. First of all, a little background.

Home Construction

The home I live in was designed and built in 2000 with the freeway in mind - the freeway was planned for in the 1950's and built in the early 1960s.

Therefore, most of the windows in my house face away from the highway, and the bedrooms are the rooms furthest away from the road. The side of the house closest to the road consists of bathrooms and a stairwell. These internal rooms help capture some of the noise that would otherwise enter the house.

Given the building's urban setting, there is little lawn, but there is a good sized outdoor patio.

Road Geography and Us…

Repaired my speakers instead of buying new ones

The bad news - a big hole in my woofer

I've had this nice pair of Advent two-way speakers for years. They sound great, they're compact, and the look great.

But they recently broke.

I was listening to some music (at low volume!) the other day, and suddenly a painfully annoying buzz started to emanate from the right speaker. I took off the grill covering and there I found a huge hole in the woofer. The flexible foam cone surround broke down over time and finally gave way. Bummer.

Then I checked out the left speaker - its woofer's foam surround developed a substantial crack too - it just wasn't buzzing yet.

I went online and looked for replacement speakers. After some search, I realized that I'd have to spend over $200 to get some half-way decent speakers - a fairly depressing amount of money. And they likely weren't as soulful or as attractive as my old Advents.

So instead of replacing them, I decided to repair them.

Ordering Replacement Woofers

Since the woofers w…

Cheapest smartphone plans

It used to be that all the cheapest smart phone plans had just about the same pricetag - about $70 a month and up. $70 a month adds up very quickly, especially when you have to do things like pay the mortgage or the rent.

I need a smartphone plan with internet access with a full browser, email, decent performance, plus roughly 400 minutes per month. I'm not a big text messager. And I want to pay as little as possible.

So I went to all the web sites of all the major American mobile service providers to check out their pricing. Since I originally wrote this article there have been changes in smartphone plans. There is a now difference - a huge difference in terms of pricing. Read on...

Here is a summary of what I've found in terms of the cheapest way to get a smart phone plan from the major American providers:

1. The T-Mobile plan comes with 500 minutes of prime-time talk. Data and texts are unlimited. Total price with a subsidized phone: $80/month... and that's with 4G…

Repair: Fixing a noisy fan in a Toshiba A15

The patient: a Toshiba A15 with a noisy, bad fan.

I have a great Toshiba A15 that just keeps on humming along. Actually, humming and buzzing. It makes an awful racket, and so I decided to replace the aging internal fan.

Here's what I did to replace the fan. I suspect this basic technique will work with other similar Toshiba laptops.

Tools and Parts requiredA small phillips head screwdriverA replacement fan, such as this oneSome "canned air", to remove dust

1. Shut Down the Laptop, unplug it, and remove the battery

2. Remove the fan cover

I flipped the laptop on its back. In the corner there is a covering with two bulges. I removed this cover by removing the three screws. I then gently unsnapped the cover to expose the fan.
The fan cover

With the cover removed, the fan is exposed

3. Remove Fan

Next, I removed the two screws holding the fan in place. Then I gently pulled off the tiny power cable.

The power cable connection

The fan

4. Clean the heat sink

I then cleaned …

Using a Garmin eTrex with a Macintosh

Summary: Got my Garmin GPSs to work with both Linux and my Mac

The Garmin eTrex series consists of decent, full featured handheld GPS units. The cheaper monochrome eTrex models have a basic RS-232 serial interface, and the color eTrex models sport USB connectivity.

In this article I'll talk about my experience with connecting both USB and serial port versions of the eTrex series to my Mac and to my Linux-based PC.

I personally use the Garmin Vista HCx GPS now, but the other Garmins in the eTrex series, including the inexpensive but well specified Garmin eTrex Venture should work the same way.

Dealing with the eTrex Series with USB:

Most of the eTrex units with a color screen have a USB port on the back. Happily, this USB port uses a common USB connector, so it is easy to physically connect a USB eTrex to a Mac or a PC running Linux.

The USB Port on an eTrex
I have found two pieces of software perfect for use with a USB eTrex, without the need for special drivers: GPSBabel+ and Goo…

The Asus WL500W and DD-WRT

I've been running my ASUS WL-500W Wireless N Router with DD-WRT for a good two months now.

Here's what I've found:

It works great for me!

I hated my WL-500W with the stock firmware. It seemed clunky and didn't behave all that well, despite updated firmware and a plethora of promising features. But since I had this device at my Dad's house, its original shortcomings didn't mean much to me - it worked adequately for him, so I was fine with it.

But a few months ago my Dad received a "free" wireless access point from his new internet service provider, so I ended up with the WL500W. I decided that DD-WRT was the only way to go.


I installed the Mega Generic, v24 preSP2 (Build13064), available from the DD-WRT web site. I followed these TFTP instructions. Installation was a breeze using TFTP. I was stoked to see it boot.

Issue #1 - making a brick.

I was busily reconfiguring the WL500W soon after it booted: make a config change, save, make another …

Tips for a Healthy iPhone

Here is my advice to new iPhone owners

1. Restart the iPhone periodically.

The iPhone is a phone with a computer in it. And as you likely know, computers simply work better if they're restarted occasionally. I'm in the habit of restarting my iPhone about once a week.

To restart your iPhone, hold down the top button for about 4 seconds. Then slide the on-screen indicator to turn it off. Note that it can take roughly 30 seconds for your iPhone to complete shut itself down.

To turn your iPhone back on, just hold down on the top button for about 1 second. The Apple logo will appear; after about 30 seconds your iPhone will be fully powered up and ready to go.

2. Sync your iPhone to iTunes at least once a week.

I sync my iPhone to iTunes periodically for two compelling reasons:
Syncing backs up all of my iPhone's contents. If I lose or damage my iPhone, I won't lose all my data.iTunes keeps the software on my iPhone up to date. Apps and the system software are updated period…

Inexpensive Stuff for your New iPhone

I bought an iPhone 3G soon after it's release, and it is still in pristine condition. And people frequently ask me "LanceJ, what should I buy for my new iPhone?"

This is my short list.

Silicone Case - under $5

A silicone case protects my iPhone from many hard drops and can keep my iPhone looking new for years. Note that not all silicone cases are created equal - some are flimsy and thin; others are bulky and thick. I like the ones that are just in the middle. I like, in particular, the Eforcity Silicone Skin Case Cover.

Car Charger - under $5

When I'm in the car, I use the Maps feature of the iPhone a lot. And the Maps feature really does chew down the battery life. An iPhone car charger is critical if I'm in the car a lot. I suggest that people buy the GTMax Black Rapid Car Charger.

Spare Charger with Charging Cable - under $15

I find it great to have a spare iPhone charger with a spare cable. I can leave one in my office in case I forget to charge at home. And…