2017-11-27

Replacing my light fixture's GX32D tube with a regular light bulb

I have an 1980's vintage light fixture on the outside of my house.  It uses a GX32D-2 fluorescent bulb, which is very unlike the modern CFL bulbs you see today.  These GX32D bulbs are super-challenging to find these days, and expensive too. 

Even worse than that, the GX32D-2 is a 22 watt bulb - that's a lot an electricity for a standard outdoor house light fixture. It's simply a light to help guide the way, so it doesn't need to be bright enough to read by.  And it's on for 12+ hours a day.

My goal is to replace this 22 watt bulb system with a traditional light socket and a commonly available LED bulb.

What's Inside the GX32D fixture

The light fixture has three major electrical parts: the ballast transformer, the bulb socket, and the bulb itself.  If the bulb stops working, it is usually either due to the bulb or the ballast.  Replacement bulbs, ordered online or from a specialty shop, can cost $15. A replacement ballast can be $20.  Bulb replacement is easy, but replacing a burnt-out ballast means removing the fixture and rewiring. Yuk.  I want to stop all that.

My Retrofit Goals

My goal is to make a simple, clean and reliable conversion from the existing electrical components, with a minimum of spending.
  • Lower power expense by at least 80%
  • Use a traditional light bulb connectors
  • Ease maintenance
  • Lower bulb replacement costs

Light Needs Analysis

I want to make sure that my new light set-up will provide as much light as the existing set-up.  The GX32D bulb is generally rated at 1200 Lumens, but I don't need to replace it with another 1200 Lumen device to get the same brightness.

Lumens is the measure of all of the light leaving a bulb, but lux is the amount of light falling on a particular spot.  One thing about my outdoor light fixture is that the light is supposed to shine light mostly downwards in order to illuminate the ground.   A lot of the light ends up inside the fixture and gets converted into heat.  A lamp that directs more light downward will be greatly more efficient - and possibly brighter. 

I have a light meter, so I can measure the actual light output to test different options.

Therefore, in order to get a baseline of the existing set-up, I measured the light output under the lamp at a distance of 1 yard.  The meter reports 160 lux. Any new bulb should shine 160 lux under the lamp.

Some options to fix the problem

So at this point I know what I want, but now the question is how to do it.  There are lots of solutions.  Here are the three that I looked into:

Replace the socket.  This is the solution I chose.  It means taking down the lamp and removing the old ballast and socket, but a simple $5 lamp holder socket is the only new parts that is required.


Replace the fixture. Another solution is to completely replace the fixture.  But I actually like my old fixture's style quite a lot.  It's made out of heavy cast aluminum, and so it is quite tough.  New fixtures are generally poorly made, or it they're not poorly made, they're very expensive. It's a shame to go throw this one away when the only thing wrong with it is the bulb it requires.

Install a bulb adapter.  There may be adapters that can convert a GX32D socket into a traditional socket.  But you still have to remove the ballast from the circuit, and the adapters are hard to find and expensive too.  This seems like the worst solution.

The process

Here is the process I used to replace GX32D socket with a traditional socket.
  1. Remove the fixture from the house.
  2. Removed the baseplate that holds the ballast and socket
  3. Removed the socket and ballast from the baseplate
    • Repainted the baseplate a gloss white
    • Repainted the fixture a satin black
  4. Bought a lamp holder socket that would screw into place
  5. Wired up the socket with a short (2 foot) length of lamp cord.
  6. Fed the cord through the baseplate and through the lamp.
  7. Reassembled and re-installed.
And there we have it! Now my light fixture uses a standard bulb and is at least as good as new!

Bulb Selection

Now that I had a fixture, it was time to test the light output of various replacement bulbs.  Of course not everyone has to do this, but I figured I have the equipment, so why not.

I started with the lowest wattage LED bulb I have laying around - a 3 watt LED that I bought on Amazon.  I measured the light under my new fixture at 169 lux... brighter than the original 22 watt bulb!  It turns out that the fixture oriented the GX32D bulb in a very inefficient way, and so my new LED retrofit with a nearly optimal lamp orientation provides about the same light on the ground.

Since this was the lowest wattage bulb I had, and since it threw plenty of light, I went with it.

Just for fun, I measured the actual power usage of the old and new bulbs on my kill-o-watt power meter.  The GX32D light and ballast uses 23 watts, and the new bulb only uses 2.5 watts - that's a huge 20.5 watts in power savings.

Conclusion

  • The basic relamping cost about $8 (for the socket and the wire) and took about 15 minutes
  • The repainting cost about $6 (for spray paint)
  • The LED retrofit saves me about $40 a year in electricity costs
  • The LED retrofit provides the same light
The one thing I didn't do was install a photoelectric sensor.  If I ever have a reason to open up this fixture again, I might do that.

2017-11-23

When is the best time to do laundry?

I think about energy efficiency a lot, so my question of the moment is... when is the best time to do laundry?  For me, my laundry consists of machine wash and machine dry.

Washer Efficiency
With the wash, the question is when is the best time to use a pretty much fixed amount of water and energy.  I think that's when electricity production is at its most efficient, which is at night and on weekends.  That's because the energy companies use their most efficient electricity generators 24 hours a day, but add less efficient generators as load increases.

Dryer Efficiency
With the dryer, the question is when is it easiest for the dryer to remove moisture.  I think that's during low-humidity times.  Dryers draw in air to work their magic, so the more dry the air is, the more quickly the laundry will dry.

Also, note again that dryers suck in air, and exhaust warm moist air outside.  During extremely cold or hot weather, a heating system or air conditioning system will need to heat or cool this new outside air.  It's good to minimize this expense too.  Therefore, it is best to avoid doing laundry during very hot or very cold weather.

Conclusion
So I try to do laundry on dry nights and weekends.  If it is particularly hot, cold, or damp outside, I'll put off laundry for another day.

Buying the right LED bulbs

With so many LED bulbs on the market, it's hard to choose a good one.  And sadly, no retail web sites that focus on selling bulbs help.

Faceted bulb selection

The sellers of light bulbs should offer a faceted selection tool, allowing the customer to locate the best bulbs they can find.  With over 1000 bulbs on the market, not offering such a selection tool makes it nearly impossible for a customer to find the right bulb.

Here are the facets that all adequate retailer should offer:
  1. Socket Style (traditional E26 Edison, etc)
  2. Bulb Shape (Traditional, Globe, Spot, Candle, etc)
  3. Average Life Minimum  (25k hours, 50k hours, ...)
  4. Light color (warm white, daylight, blue, etc)
  5. Special Features (wet, smart, etc)
  6.  User-specified Lumen Range (350..600, 150..1000, 150..350, etc)
Just a note about numbers.  It is STUPID to offer discrete facets for things like bulb life or lumens.  There are thousands of different possibilities. RANGES are the only non-stupid way to allow such a selection.

From there, once a customer selects one or more facets, a list of products could be produced, sortable by either energy consumption or price tag.

With that, I can say "show me all the bulbs, sorted by energy consumption, that use an e26 base and that outputs at least 225 Lumens".  Pretty simple, eh?  Shockingly, NO RETAILER OFFERS SUCH A SIMPLE TOOL.

My Facets for Selecting Bulbs
 
Here is what I generally care about:
  1. QUALITY.  Buy only highly rated bulbs.  No-name bulbs without a track record are not worth the investment.  They might be great... or they might look awful and last 6 months.  Only buy bulbs that have a real warranty and a good reputation to lose. If in doubt, stick with the hugely popular name brands.
  2. COLOR.  Stick with the same light color, and buy in lots.  LEDs have many different color options, such as "warm white" and "cool blue" and many others.  It looks a bit silly to have many different colored lamps in proximity to one another, and so if you're outfitting a room, stick with the same color bulb and preferably use bulbs from the same package.  My personal choice is to use warm white bulbs with a color between 2600K and 3000K.
  3. LIFESPAN.  Buy bulbs with a long life.  Buy bulbs that are have have an estimated life of at least 22 years or 25,000 hours. Anything less suggests that the bulbs are poorly designed.  Of course, being an average, some bulbs will not last as long as promised, and some bulbs will last considerably longer.  I write the date on all of the bulbs I install so that I can determine if a bulb fails prematurely.
  4. CONSUMPTION.  Go with the lowest actual wattage that is adequate for your needs.  I find that 3 watt bulbs offer plenty of light for many uses around my home.  In hallways and bedrooms I go with the 3 watt bulbs that produce about 225 lumens.  In the kitchen, living room and bathroom, I use 5 watt bulbs that output about 500 lumens. Strangely, many LED retailers focus on bulb brightness, and leave wattage as an afterthought.
  5. QUANTITY.  Minimize bulb count.  Some fixtures can use two or three or more bulbs.  Do you need them all?  Generally, more bulbs means less efficiency.  If a fixture can accept two bulbs, can you instead go with one?
And there you have my criteria for buying LED lightbulbs.  Now that I've outfitted my house with bulbs that are supposed to last 50,000 hours, I won't have to buy too many more bulbs in my lifetime.  After all, at 3 hours per day, that's more than 45 years.

2017-11-05

Using Recovery Mode on my Lux Thermostat

I've had this Lux programmable thermostat for years, and it's worked perfectly great for me.

But this week I just learned about enabling Recovery mode, and it both works great and should save me more money.

What is recovery mode?

Normally, a programmable thermostat is a device that is used to turn on the heat at a user-specified time in order to meet a user-specified temperature.

In contrast, a recovery mode programmable thermostat is a device that ensures that a user-specified temperature is met at a user-specified time.

The difference seems subtle, but in the real world, recovery mode makes a big positive difference in terms of living comfort and heating efficiency.

When using a thermostat, it can take a variable amount of time for your heat to come up in the morning.  Let's say you want to be up and about a 7 AM with a house temperature of 68 °F.  When should the heating system come on?

Well, that depends on your heating system, how cold it is outside, and how cool your house is.  If it was warm last night, with a low temperature of 67°F, it will take only a few minutes of heat to get to temperature.  But if it is cold, say down to 60°F inside and 20°F outside, it could take an hour for the heating system to suitably warm up the place.

A thermostat's recovery feature automatically figures out when the heat needs to come on in order to reach the programmed temperature at the right time.

I generally want to keep my house at 68 °F during the day (from 7 AM), and I set the thermostat to 60 °F at night.  I don't want the heat to turn on at 7 AM - I want the house to be 68°F warm at 7 AM.  With recovery mode, I just program my thermostat to "68 °F at 7 AM", and from there my thermostat works to make sure that's true.

The thermostat uses the current temperature, the goal temperature, and the recently recorded speed of the heating system to figure out when to turn on the heating system.  Today the thermostat might calculate that the heating system needs to come on around 6:42 AM to reach 68 °F at 7 AM.  When it is much colder next week, the thermostat might determine that the heating system needs to be turned on at 6:35AM.

In all, this means that the thermostat will work as efficiently as it can in order to keep my house at the right temperature for me.  All this in a $50 thermostat.  Pretty nice.


2017-09-26

MagSafe Power Adapter Repair (and failure)

Every Apple site has users that complain that Apple MagSafe Power Adapters can fail... but nobody says what you can do to fix them.

I happened to buy an old MacBook and it came with an unreliable MagSafe power adapter.

How can Apple, after producing this general style of AC adapter for over 15 years, manage to continue to make a power adapter that fails?  More confounding, I've purchased a number of MacBooks over the last decade, and I have never had a problematic MagSafe power adapter.  What gives?

The simple answer is: Customer Abuse.

I've actually had my hands on at least 10 broken MagSafe power adapters, and in every single case the failure was caused by customer misuse.  Here is the list of failures I've seen:
  1. Cat or Dog chewed cable
  2. Pinched cable (crushed from furniture or a door or something)
  3. Over-stressed cable (from repeated yanking, over-winding, or some other abusive behavior)
And that's it!  In no case have I seen a MagSafe charger fail from any other cause, although I suppose that lighting damage and water damage also happens.

So, what do I do about it?  My answer is to replace the cable!
  1. Remove the power cable or duckhead from the MagSafe adapter
  2. Crack open the MagSafe adapter using large needle-nosed pliers
  3. Remove the old cable using solder wick and soldering iron.
  4. Solder in new cable
  5. Close the MagSafe adapter, lashing with tape
  6. Verify proper operation with a voltmeter
  7. If successful, use epoxy to re-seal the MagSafe adapter
I've never had a repair of this nature be anything other than successful.

That concludes what I do with a misused MacSafe adapter.

2017-08-29

Saving an iPhone 6 from Water Damage

The other day, my cousin was thrown into a pond with his clothes on.  You know, a really funny thing, unless, of course, he has his iPhone 6 in his pants pocket.

Panic ensued.  "Quick!  My iPhone!  It got wet and is acting all weird!  What can be done?  Should I get some rice?"

The reality is that rice cannot absorb a significant amount of water from the inside of a tightly-constructed device.   Happily, I was there, and I happened to be there with my small electronics tool kit.

The iPhone was powered up at the time it went into the drink (no surprise), and the screen was flickering. It was back at the Apple logo, and it soon fully booted.  But the display was fading in and out.

How I saved this iPhone 6:

First, I tried to power it off.  No luck!  It wasn't turning off.  Nothing was actually working.  So I grabbed my small electronics tool kit and opened up the iPhone.  I'm very familiar with iPhone disassembly and needed no instructions, but then again I've worked inside dozens of iPhones.  Most people can use the ifixit guide for help.  But remember, time is of the essence!

Upon opening, dang, there was water EVERYWHERE.

I quickly disconnected the battery and used some facial tissue to mop up some of the water.

From there, I removed the display, the SIM tray, and the logic board.  Of course it is important to keep track of all the little screws - and that's not so easy in the heat of the moment.  I continued to mop up the water along the way.

I didn't remove any other parts - so I basically had the logic board in hand.  I made sure everything was as dry as I could make it with some tissues.

The Somewhat Aggressive Dry-Out

Then I turned on the kitchen oven and set the temperature to 165 degrees.  I put the logic board alone in the oven on a piece of parchment paper and let it get nice and warm for a few hours.  I flipped the board several times over the hours to ensure there was decent airflow over the entire board.  My intent was to help quickly evaporate any hidden water remaining in, under, and around logic board components.  I left all the other parts (the housing with battery, and the display) in a safe, airy place to dry out.

Later that day I put some dry silica gel packs in  tuperware container, and then I added all the iPhone parts to the container.  I sealed it all up and let it sit for two days.

After those days went buy, I opened the tuperware container and inspected each part.  All of the little formerly-white water damage indicators were triggered red, but otherwise it all looked good, with no evidence of water and no water stains.   I re-assembled the phone and powered it up.

The phone successfully started (yay!), and then I tested each feature of the iPhone.  It worked perfectly, except that there was a little bit of staining under the glass of the display panel.

Success!  An iPhone saved from serious destruction.  I am confident that if I left the phone alone, all that water would have done a lot of damage.


2017-06-20

Five reasons for running a dishwasher overnight

A few weeks ago I tried to wonder why I run my dishwasher overnight.  I set it to run at about 4 AM or 5 AM, and it finishes up by 6 AM or 7 AM or so.  Here's a conclusion of my analysis.

Electricity is more efficient overnight, and therefore costs less and emits less carbon.
Power companies produce less electricity at night due to lower demand.  During the day, they produce more electricity.

As for-profit entities, power companies want to use as little fuel as possible - after all, their biggest expense is fuel. So the plants that they run all the time are their most efficient plants, and the plants that they add during peak times - during the day - are their least efficient plants.

By running my dishwasher over night, I am guaranteed to be using the power by the most energy efficient power plants.

Winter Heat / Summer Heat
My dishwasher releases quite a bit of waste heat and moisture.  Most of that heat from the dishwasher stays in my house.  By running my dishwasher at the the early morning, all the heat released pretty much stays in my house, to keep me incrementally warmer right when I awake.

Similarly, I don't want that extra heat in my house in the summer during the daytime peak temperatures.  By running it in the early morning, the dishwasher waste heat doesn't add to an already super-hot house - which then would need to be expelled by my hard-working air conditioner.

Waste water
The waste water produced by my dishwasher gets dumped into the sewer earlier in the morning.  This avoiding the peak time of wastewater production.

Hot Water Heater Cycling
By running the dishwasher in the early morning, the hot water heater gets busy heating up replacement water right before I get up to take a shower.  This puts less thermal cycling on the hot water heater.

Noise
I don't want to hear my dishwasher run.  I don't hear it while I sleep in the bedroom.

Quick drying
I like to open the dishwasher right after its cycle so its contents - particularly plastics - dry quickly.  Since I get up as it is finishing its cycle, I am often there to open the door and let the ambient environment quickly dry its contents.  By the time I'm ready for work, I can empty the cool and dry contents of the dishwasher.

---

There we have it!  That's why I run my dishwasher overnight.  Perhaps each line item has an extremely tiny impact, but perhaps when taken in their totality they are a little less than tiny.  Let me know which ones you think are bull - and why.



2017-06-16

Fixing the bottom rubber of a mid-2010 or late-2009 MacBook

All my regular readers know that I love the late 2009 and mid-2010 white unibody MacBook notebooks.  They're robust, they're still very capable, and they can still run the latest MacOS.

One problem with these old beasts is the bottom rubber can detach.  Apple used to provide free replacements, but that program ended more than a year ago.

So what do you do to fix the bottom?  It's easy!  Here's what I did:
  1. Remove the bottom plate by removing the 8 bottom screws.
  2. Fully peel off the failed rubber and fully expose the aluminum.
  3. Use small pieces of permanent tape on the "back side" of the lid to cover the drill holes in the aluminum.
  4. Fully clean the "exposed side" of the aluminum plate.
  5. Apply small stick-on rubber feet to each corner.
  6. Coat the "exposed side" of the plate with several coats of Plasti-Dip spray paint.  I picked red, but there are many colors available.
  7. Re-attach the bottom plate to the laptop.
There we go!  Now I have a nice rubberized bottom plate once again.  It looks great, it is stable, and it only cost about a quarter can of rubber paint to repair.

2017-06-02

Avoiding Computer or iPhone Repair Errors.

I repair a lot of equipment - mostly smartphones and laptops.  I'm no genius and I have limited expertise.  But I do know how to do quality work - making sure that the result is no worse than where we started from.  I am happy to say that I've rarely made something worse.

Not everyone is so good.

I've acquired a lot of equipment that was ruined from "home repair" people.  Don't be that person.

Here are the things I've seen:
  • Missing components and screws.
  • "Lost" small parts floating around inside a machine.
  • Mistakenly disconnected cables.
  • Welded parts mistakenly pulled apart.

If you're going to do a home repair, do good work.  That means you need to be patient, triple-check your work, and use reputable procedures and guides (which universally means NOT YOUTUBE!)

Here are my tips:
  • Get good repair procedures well before you begin.  These should be written procedures with photographs.  Youtube is good, but is NEVER a substitute for good procedures.  And a lot of people that make Youtube videos are, um, idiots.
  • Read the repair procedures first and make sure you fully understand every step.  Make sure you have all the tools and workspace available to do the job right.
  • Use the right tools. Do not use the wrong tool.  If the tool is available on the market, BUY IT.  Using the wrong tool for the job is always stupid.  Only experienced experts should be fashioning their own tools.  Virtually all repair tools are inexpensive.  Buy them.
  • Keep organized.  Never ever jam the wrong screw into the wrong place.  Develop a system to prevent yourself from making mistakes.
  • Screws and parts are there for a reason.  Break a part during disassembly?  Replace it.  Lose a screw?  Find it and make sure it goes back in its place.  Did you remove adhesive?  It served a function.  Replace it.
  • Know your limits.  If you can't deal with something, bring it to a pro.  For example, I hate dealing with a lot of adhesives.  I'm happy to bring a device to a repair shop if it is affordable and it help me avoid the art of working with numerous strong adhesives. 
  • Know that not all those in the repair business is professional.  Choose your repair shop carefully.
Good luck!




2017-05-07

The iPhone 3G and 3GS in 2017: Why? I'll tell you why!

The iPhone 3G ended production in 2010, and the 3GS was ended in 2012.  So the 3G/3GS series are all 5+ years old now.  But I have one that I keep and use.

Why use one now?  Because these models are still useful phones.  I use mine as a backup phone, for use when friends or family damage or lose their primary phone.

Both models are GSM-centric and have 3G radio chipsets, so they're still great for phone calls.  They have GPS, so they're useful for mapping and navigation.  And you can use them for texting, of course.

They're also inexpensive.  For under $50 you can find a great one that you don't have to worry about losing.  You can keep one as a backup phone, or as a loaner.

Of course, you'll want an unlocked one, so that you can use it with any GSM provider.

The Reasons for owning an iPhone 3G or 3GS:
  • Super-inexpensive, perhaps $50 for a fine 3GS.
  • A great backup phone if your primary phone is lost or damaged.
  • A great phone for international travel - as all iPhone 3G/3GS models are GSM.
  • A great "first phone" for a kid, so you don't have to worry about them carrying, breaking, or losing a much more expensive device.
There are some limitations, of course:
  • They're stuck at an older iOS level, so they can't run apps that require a more modern iOS.
  • Neither model has a front-facing camera, so video chat is not a possibility.
  • The iPhone 3G does not support iMessage.  However, the iPhone 3GS does.
  • Significantly slower than a modern phone for the web.

2017-05-04

Why I love my Roomba

The amazing part of the Roomba is how shockingly well iRobot supports them.  You can get a ton of spare parts for them, and it is easy and inexpensive to repair or even upgrade a Roomba.

You read that right: Roombas are easy to work on AND the parts are inexpensive.

That's like buying a BMW, and learning that cylinder heads and alternators are $50 each and can be snapped in within 5 minutes.

I've had my Roomba 600 series for five years. Now five years is a lot of time for a computer technology product that deals with dust and dirt.  Here are the things that I've done so far:

Replaced the battery

After about 3 years, my Roomba's original battery was getting pretty weak.  I replaced it.  Replacing it is a simple affair, taking about 5 minutes.  New batteries are readily available at low cost.

Replaced (and upgraded) the brush head

Evidently I used my Roomba too much in my extremely dirty basement.  My Roomba's original green-colored brush head stopped working well.  I opened it up and it looked like the gears were getting chewed up with dust.

Therefore, I decided to buy a new brush head.  The brush head is basically the entire cleaning system of the Roomba.  It is possible to upgrade the classic brushhead to the Areovac version.

Sounds expensive and hard to deal with.  But it's not!  The new cleaning head was under $40, and it took about 5 minutes to install.

Even better, the new brush head was the modern Aerovac version.  That's right - this repair upgraded my Roomba's cleaning technology.

Replaced the power jack

I'm not sure what happened here, but my Roomba's original rarely-used power jack failed.  It was somehow sending a signal to my Roomba that he was still plugged in to the charger, when he wasn't.  This led to docking issues.

This was easy to install, but it took a little more time - maybe 15 mintues.  The replacement jack was about $5.

Conclusion

iRobot is the best.  They stand behind their products, and their products are improvable after purchase.  One thing I'd love is an upgrade to Roomba's brain, so that he could be controlled via bluetooth or wifi.   That'd be real fun!



2017-05-03

Bad Drivers at Intersections

I find it fascinating that many drivers are too dumb or too uncoordinated to stop before the stop line at an intersection with a traffic signal.

A large percentage of drivers ignore the stop line and pull into the intersection - perhaps because they want to "get ahead", or maybe because they want to "see", or maybe because they don't understand the size of their vehicle.

Sadly for these bad drivers, there are sensors in the roadway that tell traffic signals when to change.  If there is no vehicle triggering the sensors, the lights don't change as fast or at all.  Obviously, vehicles already inside the intersection - such as notably beyond the stop line or in the crosswalk - will not trigger the sensors.  Those drivers have to patiently wait for another vehicle to trigger the sensor.
 
Duh.

I've seen vehicles wait over 5 minutes in an intersection during low-traffic conditions.  You'd think these drivers would figure it out, but they're so ignorant and/or distracted that they never seem to learn.

And, of course, pulling past the stop line can impede vehicles making turns, and can put pedestrians at risk due to restricted visibility.

So why do drivers so often drive past stop line, and therefore past the sensors?   We can only chalk it up to stupidity, driver inexperience, or a lack of driving expertise.
 

2017-05-02

My worst eBay purchase ever

Purchased: Three new batteries for the iPhone 5 from an eBay seller

Shipped quickly, and well packaged.

Received:
  • Three iPhone batteries.
  • A.K.A., two iPhone 5 batteries and one non-iPhone 5 battery
  • AKA, one working iPhone 5 battery, one non-working iPhone 5 battery, and one non-iPhone 5 battery.
  • AKA, one limited life (~ 15 minutes) but working iPhone 5 battery, one non-working iPhone 5 battery, and one non-iPhone 5 battery.
  • AKA, one heavily used, limited life but working iPhone 5 battery, one damaged iPhone 5 battery, and one non-iPhone 5 battery.
  • AKA, three used, not-fit-for-any-purpose batteries for various phones.
Needless to say, I demanded (and received) my money back.

2017-04-28

The Ultimate MacBook for 2018.

As my regular readers know, I love my 2010-vintage A1342 white unibody MacBook.  They are tough as nails - mine have gone through over 6 years of high school and continue to work great.

But the new MacBook and MacBook Pro series are for rich kids only.  They're expensive to buy, and they're expensive to own, and they are absolutely non-expandable once you plunk down your money.   And they're fragile, lacking MagSafe, and readily dent-able.

The poly MacBook had an important place in the lineup, and now there is a void.  I'd love Apple to see that and to address it.

So I don't want a less expandable, more fragile MacBook, but I do want a more modern one.  When Apple originally released the A1342 series, it was technically close to the MBP in power and capability.  It wasn't exactly as sweet as a MBP, but it was no slouch.  This is proven out today - even these machines, 7+ years later, are still capable workhorses.

I don't think my answer is a HomerMobile or an Edsel.  Instead, I think of it as today's Mini Cooper - an affordable and modernized re-think of a classic.

Therefore, without further ado, this is what I'd like from Apple for my MacBook of 2018.

Start with the A1342 unibody MacBook.
  • Modernize the Logic Board and its Ports
    • Upgrade from Core2Duo to a modern CPU chipset
    • Retain use of dual SO-DIMM memory modules, for future expandability.
    • Upgrade wireless to support 802.11ac and modern Bluetooth
    • Add at least two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt
    • Retain Magsafe2
    • Retain or remove DisplayPort, USB2, and Ethernet ports.
  • Modernize Drives
    • Add an internal M.2 PCI-e drive interface to allow for modern commodity SSD drives.
    • Keep SATA interface for a 2.5" drive to allow for high capacity drives (optional).
    • Remove the now-obsolete DVD drive and its drive bay.
  • Improve Appearance, Form, and Robustness
    • Improve display with Retina-class resolution
    • Improve iSight with a modern camera
    • Ensure resultant device is at least as robust as the A1342 series
      • Improve the clamshell hinge to reduce or eliminate the stress cracks that can develop through hyper-extension 
      • Fix the keyboard so it is less prone to water damage and/or more serviceable
    • Thin down the case to account for lack of a DVD drive bay, and/or expand the battery capacity.
    • Retain ability of user service for memory and drives
  • Pricing
    • Retain the $1000 price tag of the 2010-vintage A1342 MacBook.
 And there we go!  Let's hope Apple can meet or exceed this call for great design and engineering!

2017-04-13

Canceling AT&T Service, Paying your ETF, and Quickly Unlocking your iPhone

So you're abandoning AT&T.  Congrats!

Leaving AT&T often means that you want to bring your phone and your phone number to a different cell phone service provider.  That's all fine and good, but you need to have your phone SIM unlocked so that you can use it with a different carrier.  And you're under contract.  And you can only unlock your phone after your contract has been terminated.  And unlocking a phone takes significant time.

That means that there will be a block of time when you can't use your existing phone with your new telephone service.  Conceptually, this time could be very quick: cancel the line, pay off the contract, unlock the phone, and go.  But due to the realities of the computer billing process used by AT&T, the unlock process can take weeks.

One way around this is to buy a new phone, but that always costs a lot of money.  So what else can you do?  There is a way to make the unlock process less painful.

Figure 1 shows the basic process.  Unlocking your under-contract phone starts with the process of Porting to a new carrier. From there, there are several steps - some that can take days or even weeks.  In the end, your phone is unlocked and you can use it with your new carrier.

All the orange boxes in Figure 1 represent time when you can't use your existing phone with your new carrier.

With some strategy, this process can happen in as little as 4 days.  Without a strategy, you might not be able to use your old phone for a month or more.
Steps of Porting with a Locked Phone

Preparing to Leave AT&T:

To be as efficient as possible, it is necessary to do some things in advance:

You'll need following information from http://att.com/ :
  • AT&T Account Number.  This is under "Profile".
  • Your AT&T Access ID.  This is under myAT&T Login Password.
  • Your AT&T Security Passcode.  This is also under the Passwords section of Profile.  Don't have a security passcode?  Then you must set one. 
  • Your AT&T Billing Date.  This is NOT your payment due date, but the date your bill closes every month.  For me, my monthly bill always includes charges from the 9th of the prior month to the 8th of the current month.  You'll need your bill closing date (for me, the 8th of the month).
You'll also need these basics:
  • The phone number to move to a new carrier. 
  • Your phone's IMEI number.  Make a phone call to *#06# and the IMEI number will appear on your phone's screen.
You'll need a temporary unlocked phone.

You won't be able to use your phone with your new carrier while it remains locked with AT&T.  You'll likely want a temporary phone.  You can borrow a friend's old unlocked phone, or you can do what I did:  I bought an inexpensive, used, unlocked iPhone on Amazon for about $100, and later sold it on Craigslist for about the same price.

The Efficient Migration Process with a SIM-Locked Phone

The strategy to a quick unlock is for AT&T to bill you as soon as possible after you initiate a port.  AT&T bills are generated at about the same time every month, about three days after your monthly bill closing date.

Therefore, the porting process should be pursued about 1 day before your bill closes.  My monthly bill closing date is the 8th of the month, so I had my phone service ported to my new carrier on the 7th of the month.

Here's the process I used:
  1. Make sure you have all the information mentioned in the Preparation section above, including your temporary unlocked phone.
  2. On the day before your bill closing date, go to your new carrier and tell them that you want to do a port.  Show them your unlocked phone.  Have them verify that the phone is unlocked and works with their service.
  3. Have your new carrier port your phone number from AT&T.  Your new carrier will need your AT&T account number, your AT&T security code, and other things like payment. The port generally happens in under 5 minutes.
  4. Now you have to wait for AT&T to bill you.  This takes about 2.5 to 3 days after bill closing.  Since my bill closes on the 8th at 11:59 pm, or so, that means my bill will appear around the 11th.  I just check the AT&T web site every 4 hours or so until I see that I owe.  Note that since your phone number is no longer an AT&T phone number, you'll need to log into ATT.com with your AT&T Access ID, as gathered earlier.
  5. Immediately after AT&T produces your final bill, pay the bill on-line via credit card.  You should immediately see the amount you owe go to $0. 
  6. On the day after you successfully pay your bill, ask AT&T to unlock your phone via the AT&T unlock portal.
  7. Usually within hours, AT&T will give you information on how to unlock your phone.  If AT&T rejects your unlock request, you'll have to call them up and have them fix the problem.  This could be due to a problem in their billing, contract, or device database.
  8. Follow AT&T's unlock procedures and start using your phone again!

Conclusion

In conclusion, porting a number to a new carrier is easy, but the unlock process make the everything a bit more complex.  By using the above procedure, you may be able to minimize the time and effort to port to a new carrier without having to give up your existing, locked phone.

2017-03-31

Why I get rid of stuff on Freecycle, eBay, and Craigslist.

Sometimes I have something that is old, worn out, or even broken, but I -know- that someone in the world could use it.  For instance, the heating element of my coffee maker broke, but I knew that someone could use the coffee maker's carafe and filter basket.  I listed those two parts individually on eBay, and they sold right away.  I didn't get a lot of money for them, but I got enough to cover my costs.

Why bother? 

Yes, I didn't make a ton of money selling my defunct coffee maker's carafe and filter basket.  So what's my logic for selling them on eBay?
  • It's better for my stuff to be used, instead of it being thrown into a garbage heap.
  • It's better for my stuff to be used by someone who needs it, instead of having it sitting idle in my attic to rot.
  • It's better for someone else to be able to fix their own thing with an inexpensive used part, instead of them having to throw away their old thing and buy something new.
  • It's better to repair stuff than to buy new stuff.  Manufacturing new stuff takes a lot of energy and creates a lot of pollution.  Minimizing the production of new stuff is good for everyone.

What's the savings?

When I sold my carafe and filter basket, these things did not go into the garbage heap:
  1. My carafe
  2. My filter basket
  3. The coffee maker of the buyer of my carafe - with a new carafe, its buyer was able to use his coffee maker again.
  4. The coffee maker of the buyer of my filter basket - with a new filter holder, its buyer was able to use his coffee maker again.
Also, these things didn't have to be made:
  1. A replacement coffee maker of the buyer of my carafe
  2. A replacement coffee maker of the buyer of my filter basket
So in all, two fewer coffee makers had to be manufactured.  Two fewer coffee makers went to the landfill.  I got some money.  And the people who bought my used parts saved some money to help reduce their credit card debt.  WE ALL WIN.

Why not just give it to Good Will?

Good Will is great.  They take your stuff and turn it around to help people in need.  But it is bad for them and bad for everyone if we just dump them stuff that they don't know how to deal with.  That includes weird coffee maker parts of unknown manufacture and unknown quality.

The beauty of me selling this stuff instead is that I know exactly what this stuff is and I know exactly what's good and bad about it.   For instance, I know the exact model number of my old coffee maker, and with that someone can be reasonably sure to find it on eBay.  A firm like a Good Will doesn't have the time or ability to assess and research every minor thing that comes in their door.

eBay is likely best for stuff like this, because the market place is enormous and because just about anything can be listed there.  Need a karafe for a Krups model 37G125 coffee maker?  Only eBay and maybe the manufacturer is likely to have something available.

Very common items, like computer parts and iPods have a robust local market, and therefore these parts can be listed on Freecycle or Craigslist.

So if you have junk, think twice about throwing it out - you might be able to stop a whole lot more junk from ending up in the landfill.

2017-03-20

The best Mac laptop ever

We all love our Macs, but one Mac laptop was the best ever.

What was it?  It was the late-2009 through mid-2010 white plastic MacBook.

What?  That piece of ugly white?

Yes!  Here's why:
  • They are powerful.  It was nearly as powerful as the MacBook Pro of its day, and can still run a modern OS well.  It was faster than many more modern MacBooks.
  • It was inexpensive.  It was under $1000 when new, and today they are under $400.
  • It is tough.  People could only ruin them with water or with serious abuse.
  • Unlike today's Macs, it is standards-based.  It uses standard memory, drives, and dvd.
  • The memory is replaceable.  The memory can be inexpensively expanded to 16 GB (the same limit as today's most expensive MacBook Pro).
  • The hard drive is replaceable.  A MacBook today can easily use an off-the-shelf 2 TB SSD drive.  Try a 2 TB drive in today's MacBook Pro.  Haha, see you at the bank.
  • The battery is long-lived.  I have many heavily used 7+ year old MacBooks, all still running their original battery.
  • It's still useful.  It can still use the latest Mac OS.
There are a few downsides:
  • The white plastic case can show micro-abrasion scratches.
  • The machine doesn't have USB3, as seen on modern laptops.  Then again, the iPhone and iPad don't support USB3 either (?!)
  • With the built-in DVD drive, it is quite bulky compared to modern laptops
  • On misused machines
    • cosmetic white stress cracks can emerge on the back plastic of the display clam shell
    • liquids spilled into the keyboard can ruin the keyboard, preventing typing, or in some cases, starting.

So there you have it!  The 2010 MacBook.  The best Mac laptop ever.

2017-03-18

WTF is going on with Fiber to the Home?

A few years ago we were all excited that Google was getting into the Fiber Internet business.  And before that, Verizon was getting into the game with its FiOS brand.  Now they've all pretty much stopped. What happened?

Part of the issue is that Comcast and its industry brothers have strong monopoly-like powers and the ability to direct Congress and the President.   The Cable TV industry, operating as a single monopolistic business, is a very powerful force despite extremely poor ratings and ever-rising high prices.

The other death knell to Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS is Wireless Internet.  Not today's wireless, but next year's wireless.
With Comcast working towards a monopoly of wireless spectrum, it is financially irresponsible for any wire-based ISP to continue to build out their services. - Lloyd Emerson
It takes a ton of money to string up wires along the street and drag them into a house.  Even a simple thought experiment shows that  a reasonable $200 per house would turn into a lot of money in a region with a million homes.  What if you could transition that cost from $200 per house to $3 per house?  That'd be a HUGE savings.  Why spend $200 million per city today, when you can spend $3 million per city in a couple years?  Sure, you'd lose two years worth of revenue, but you'd save $197 million. 

And that's the future of wireless.  This isn't WiFi, and it isn't Cellular.  Instead, its 802.11af and related technologies, which promises that a handful of access points will cover a city.   The ISP would set up 802.11af access points strategically, ensuring good, high-speed coverage throughout town.  Then you'd buy an inexpensive 802.11af transceiver that you buy at BestBuy, plug it into your router, and configure an account at your ISP.  You'd get to chose your plan for a monthly fee.   You'd get Internet at your house immediately, and there would be no wires to string up, route, or repair.

Bye-bye Comcast?  Not so fast!  Congress is planning to set this up as a monopoly.  Those wireless signals would be on non-public frequencies, and so the highest bidder would likely gain control of the airwaves.  Who has a few billion in the bank so they can buy wireless rights?  Oh yeah, your local cable TV monopoly and multi-billion-dollar firm that has Congress and the President in their back pocket .... Comcast and their industry colleague.

Fiber to the Home is dead.  So is Coaxial cabling and twisted pair.  Wireless is much cheaper to deploy, and so wireless ISPs will have significantly lower costs.

2017-03-05

Buying a Cable Modem to Stop Comcast Modem Rental Fee

I really hate the idea that honest and upstanding Americans continue to spend good money to RENT a cable modem from Comcast when they can save a lot of money by buying a great modem for very little money.  So I aim to help you avoid these awful rental fees.

Comcast usually charges about $10 a month for you to rent a cable modem, which is $120 a year, and Add the "taxes and fees" that Comcast layers onto your bill and maybe the cost is $140 a year.  Wow.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  STOP!!!

Cable modems are inexpensive!  You can buy a new, modern, blazing fast, Comcast-certified cable modem for less than $40 from Amazon.

But How?
  1. Buy this cable modem, the TP-Link TC-7610-E
  2. Unplug your Comcast rental cable modem
  3. Plug in your modern, newly purchased cable modem
  4. Restart your WIFI router (unplug it for 30 seconds, and then plug it back in)
  5. Wait a couple minutes
  6. Go to any website
  7. Comcast will put up a page instead of the website
  8. Log into Comcast using your Comcast account to enable the new modem
  9. The modem will be ready to go in minutes.
  10. Return the crappy rented modem to Comcast so they will stop charging you for it.
  11. Make sure you get a receipt when you return the modem.  Keep that receipt.
  12. Verify that Comcast stopped charging you a modem rental fee on your monthly bill
  13.  After four months, buy yourself a nice $10 gift each and every month.

2017-02-04

Properly using Thermal Paste to keep your MacBook Cool

I hear a lot of people talking about how their MacBook is too hot.   They look at on-line forums and see that their MacBook is running at 83 C and get very concerned.  They learn from the forums that they need to re-apply the thermal paste to keep their computer cool, but virtually all the forums participants are amateur idiots that offer ridiculous procedures that are likely to damage your computer.

This article is the right way to address this problem.  

First, let's talk about why your computer is running so hot.

Computer CPUs get hot.  They're designed to get hot, consuming many watts in a very small surface area.  Ever touch a 25 watt light bulb that's been on for 5 minutes?  It will be painfully hot.  Take that 25 watts and put it in a much smaller package (think halogen), and it will be MUCH hotter.  That's a CPU - a 25 watt device in a very small package.

CPU manufacturers put temperature probes inside a CPU not so that you can look at the temperature, but so that the computer can regulate its own heat.  No heat sink is going to prevent that CPU from getting hot.  Instead, a heat sink is designed to take that heat and spread it across a larger surface.  Now if that heat sink was huge, you'd be done.  But a laptop is small, so a fan is then used to blow  room temperature air over the heat sink.

Your laptop has fan circuitry that is designed to regulate its temperature.  The fan's cooling ability is based on the ambient air temperature and airflow.  If the computer is feeling hot, it will spin up the fans to exhaust heat.  The amount of cooling is based on airflow and the temperature of the air going into the machine.

So, what about thermal paste?

Thermal paste is simply some heat conducting goop that helps the heat to move from the CPU to the heat sink.  Applying thermal paste is as simple as scribbling with crayons.  And it will last far longer than the life of any machine.  And therefore, "poorly applied thermal paste" or "worn out thermal paste" simply doesn't happen.

All that said, computers can get too hot, particularly when they get old.  Why?  It is almost always due to dust clogging up the airways of your computer, preventing the fans from blowing air over the heat sink.  When a modern computer gets too hot, it will automatically power off.  If you have that kind of behavior, the right response with your computer is to see if you need to de-dust the air passages. Another possibility is that the fan has failed.

So, in conclusion, leave the thermal paste ALONE.  Ignore the forums, as they are filled with idiots and shills that market stupidly overpriced thermal paste.  Let your Mac regulate its own temperature.  If the fan is spinning too hard, it is because you have a runaway process, or because your computer is full of dust.

LED Bulbs - Lifespan Review

I have converted to LED lighting, so here I want to talk about what bulbs have worked for me and which have not.

For those not good at the math of hours, there are about 8760 hours in a year.   Most traditional bulbs are predicted to last about 750 hours, and most LEDs are predicted to last about 22,000 hours.


I only have about 25 bulbs in use, with about 10 of them are on during waking hours (I work from home).

Ikea:
I have a handful of Ikea bulbs.  I have a couple 6.5 watt bulbs and a couple of 3.5 watt bulbs.  I put a lot of hours on these bulbs (perhaps 10,000 so far), with no failures.  So far they're all good.

LE:
I bought three small boxes of LE bulbs from Amazon.   I have two 6 watt candelabra-type bulbs, which have about 15,000 hours so far.  I also have a two 3 watt bulbs, at roughly 10,000 hours.  So far so good.  But I did have another set of four 3-watt LEs, and they all died after about 5000 hours.  The four dead bulbs were all from the same box, and I speculate that they all shared the same design or manufacturing problem.  So it's a mixed bag with LE so far, due to that one bad box I received.

Target
I bought a couple of Target-branded bulbs from Target.  They are 6.5 watt bulbs.  One has prematurely failed after less than 20 months, and perhaps 1000 hours.  The other is still going.

Philips
I only have one Philips LED, and its the oldest LED bulb I own.  It's still fine.

CREE
I have a bunch of CREE bulbs.  One is quite old, with about 16,000 hours.  The others are relatively new.  None have failed.

So, there you have it!  I had one bad batch of LE bulbs, and one Target bulb failed.  Regardless, I saved somewhere around $1200, so it's all been a great investment.  But better bulbs will help me lower the effort I have to expend. 


2017-01-17

How to park a car

Welcome!  Hopefully you found this page because you realize that you need to improve your parking.

A city has a lot of cars and not so many parking spaces.  In fact, most cities have way more cars than parking spaces.  This article is to help you maximize parking, so that you and your neighbors have a better chance of finding a space.

Of course, every place has different parking laws, and those laws are usually designed to give residents a better chance to park.  If you get a ticket, pay up and learn your lesson.

Not all streets have marked parking spaces, so it is up to driver skill and intelligence to properly park cars.  The following tips are to help drivers park properly in such a situation.

Maximize

Always strive to park in a manner that allows room for additional cars.  Sometimes this is impossible, due to how cars have moved in and out of parking spaces.

Note: Inefficient spacing in a parking zone due to can literally be nobody's fault, so be aware of the possibilities before you think of vandalizing someone's car.

Curb distance

Generally you'll want to park as close to the curb as possible.  Generally 6 inches is a reasonable maximum distance, but sometimes up to 12 inches is OK.  Anything more than 12 inches is a sign of a very lousy driver.  High or low curbs can be a variable here - you'll want to leave enough space to fully turn your wheel, if that might be necessary to pull out of the space.

I usually leave about four inches from the curb.  You can't do that?  You need to practice - a lot of beginners can't park very well.

While parking, be sure to flip in your street-side door mirror.  Otherwise, a lousy motorist or biker might break it off.

Hydrants, Intersections, and No Parking signage

If you see a space adjacent to a no parking sign or a fire hydrant, you should park as close as legally permitted to that sign or hydrant.  For example, if a sign says "no parking in behind this sign", you should park immediately in front of the sign, with no more than 2 inches of clearance.  As another example, if you see a hydrant and the law where you live says you must leave 8 feet of clearance around the hydrant, you should park 8 feet in front of (or behind) the hydrant - not 9 or 12 or 14 feet.

Pull Up Principle

Unless you are parking in the last space (due to hydrant, sign, or intersection), you should pull up to the car in front of you, leaving roughly 18 inches for clearance.  Leaving less than 10 inches of clearance is too little and may prevent that driver from moving.  Leaving more than 24 inches is too much, and unnecessarily wastes parking potential.


Wrong-Way Parking

Always park in the direction of travel.  Never park in the direction opposite of travel.  That's a sure sign of a poor driver that isn't comfortable in their skill to turn their car around.

On Snow

Only a scumbag would take someone's recently-shoveled space without shoveling out a space in return.  If you take a space that someone diligently shoveled out, then you are morally obligated to shovel out a space for someone else.  Oh, you're a guest visiting?  Great!  Get out your shovel.  Don't have a shovel?  Great!  Find a garage to park in.

Other Ideas

Sometimes its "trash day" and there are trash barrels on the side of the road that the waste guys need to pick up.  It's OK to give clearance so the trash guys can move and empty those barrels.

Sometimes there is a moving truck or a plumber or whatever.  It's good to give them clearance so that they can properly get into their vehicle with their equipment.

Sometimes there are weird situations.  Do the best you can, remembering the principles of safety for everyone,  maximizing parking, and considering the needs of others.

---

Do you have more parking tips?  Great, please share!

2017-01-15

The Craigslist Buyer's Guide by Lance J.

I sell a lot of things on Craigslist, and so I have gained some experience on what makes a good buyer versus a bad buyer.

I have never had a problem with Craigslist, but I am sometimes concerned that some buyers trust me too much. I am a great and honest seller, but I am unsure how some buyers know that.

So here are my tips:

The Basics
  • Always deal locally.  Never deal with home addresses, shipping or traveling significant distances.
  • Never deal with shipping or the mail in any way.
  • Never deal with anything other then US cash currency.
  • Never deal with very high value items. 
  • Never deal with trades.  In a trade situation, you need to be able to properly validate what you're trading for.  This can be very difficult.
  • An extremely good bargain is very likely a scam.  Don't bother.
  • Never respond to an ad with weird phone numbers or weird email addresses.  These are only used by people that have been kicked off of Craigslist.  In short, they are scammers.
  • Any seller (or buyer) who tells you that they are located out of state, deployed overseas, have a sick child, need a donation, own a shipping company, is a veteran or pastor, or who simply loves Jesus... is, without exception, a lying scammer.
The Item
  • Know the financial value of the thing you're buying.  Buying a MacBook Air?  Great, understand what they go for new, and see what a used one sells for via eBay Sold Items.
  • Always verify what you're buying.  If you're not an expert, get a friend who is an expert involved. Buying a guitar?  Great, get an expert friend to go along.  Buying a smartphone or computer?  Also get an expert friend to join you.
  • Inexpensive items carry less risk.
The Seller
  • Sellers who don't know what they are selling are bad sellers.  Avoid them.
  • Never blindly trust the seller.  Most sellers are great, but good con artists will appear great too.
  • Ask lots of questions, and look for any signs of an inconsistent story.
  • Never expect a refund, but ask the seller if he/she would support a refund if it isn't what it appears to be.
  • Always get telephone contact information from the seller.  Yes, there are disposable phones and phone numbers out there, but with some legal work they can potentially be traced back. 
The Location
  • Only meet in someplace safe.  If you have any doubt, do not meet.  If something doesn't feel right, don't meet and/or walk away.
  • Show up on time or slightly early.  A seller isn't going to want to wait around for someone who may never show up.
  • As a seller, I usually will meet a buyer in a place that I know, and where I think they should feel comfortable, such as the local coffee shop. And as a seller, I dictate where we meet, but will often give the buyer a bit of flexibility.

2017-01-13

The Pack Rat's Solution: Selling Junk on eBay, etc

I hate to throw things away.  Let's say my toaster breaks and I decide it isn't worth keeping.  Hm, maybe I'll harvest its knobs.

I've been doing this for years, because hey, you never know when you need a good knob.  But it has gotten a bit out of hand, and so with encouragement from my wife, I'm now selling this stuff.

Now on the surface, it seems that it would be a challenge for me to get rid off all of my "good junk". After all, if I sell all of my knobs, then I won't have a knob when I need one!  But actually, that's not the case. 

I'm happy that the knobs are going to someone that actually NEEDS them for good.  It's better for the knobs to go to a loving home where they'll be used as knobs, instead of sitting in a box in my basement until I'm dead, or going into a landfill where they'll decay over the millennia.  If I ever need that knob back, I'll just buy one on eBay.

I make very little money selling these little things - the vast majority (sometimes more than 80%) of an items' gross income goes into selling fees and shipping expenses.  But my wife is happy, the buyer is happy, eBay is happy, and the shipping companies are happy, and I do have a few hundred extra dollars in my pocket.

That's all pretty awesome.

2017-01-12

Dishwasher no longer cleaning well? Here's the easy fix!

I know a lot of people who have problematic dishwashers.  They no longer clean like they once did.  Happily, most dishwasher problems of this nature are very easy to fix.

Let's start with a quick review of how a dishwasher works:
  1. Detergent and water are mixed together within the dishwasher
  2. The dishes are blasted with this cleaning solution for roughly two hours
  3. The dirty waste water is drained out
But sometimes you run the dishwasher, and it seems to do all of the above steps, but the dishes don't come out clean, with food debris and dirt still around.  Where does this process go wrong?

Here are some steps to take to address the issue:

ALWAYS Scrape your dishes before loading.

Yes, those corn kernels and other food bits aren't going to be digested by your dishwasher.  They're just going to clog up the dishwasher, preventing the water from blasting your dishes.  No blasting means no clean dishes.

Yes, it says this in the manual, but you ignored it.  Take a dirty sponge or rag and wipe off your dirty dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.  Yes, your hands might get a little dirty!  Suck it up.

Use GOOD dishwasher detergent

Lousy detergent does a lousy job cleaning dishes, and no, it is not all the same.  Try different brands until you find one that works well.  I've been happy with the Target "pack" style detergent.   Recently, I've been less happy with Cascade.

Properly load your dishwasher

Your dishes should feel like they're riding in a bus, not like they're jammed into an overloaded elevator.

Make sure there is at least a half inch between the surfaces of your dishes.  Nesting will prevent the dishwasher from blasting all surfaces.  Also, don't allow your spoons, forks and knives to "nest together".  You can fill your dishwasher, no worries, but don't jam everything in. 

Clean the filter

Some dishwashers have a filter or screen in the bottom sump that should be cleaned periodically.  Read your dishwasher's manual and see your dishwasher has one. It's likely full of awful food waste from years gone by.  Also, check the water nozzles in your dishwasher and make sure they aren't clogged with gunk.  If they are clogged, you'll need to do something to unclog them.

Use JetDry or similar

Yes, it exists for a reason - it basically helps the water and detergent scrub your dishes harder.  Some detergent has this built-in, but most does not.  Using it is simple and inexpensive.

Energy saving tips:
  1. Fully load your dishwasher before running it.
  2. Don't use "super scrub" or other modes that just mask your dishwasher's issues.
  3. Don't use heated-dry mode.  It's an energy suck.  Air drying can be much more efficient.
  4. Use the timer to run the dishwasher over-night.  I have mine run at about 6 AM, and then I can immediately empty it in the morning as I brew my coffee.
Other issues:
Leaks, a lack of water, or a lack of water pumping are much more serious issues.  Professional repair or replacement is likely the right course of action in these cases.
 



2017-01-11

WIFI Range Extenders have Limited Usefulness

A lot of friends and family have asked for me to install a WIFI range extender for them, so I decided to try one out.  I bought this TP-Link TL-WA855RE WIFI range extender for under $20.

The range extender I bought is very simple to use and does a good job at what it is designed for: You plug it in, and with a few configuration steps, you're in business extending your WIFI signal.  But range extenders do have significant limitations.

First, most range extenders have a single radio per band.  And therefore any traffic carried by them is going to be at about half speed.  Why?  Because a typical range extender is a pass-through device: every byte received by the extender needs to be immediately rebroadcast over the same radio channel.  That means a range extender needs to handle double the radio traffic of a typical router, effectively halving its useful throughput.


client ⇄ extender ⇄ primary wifi

Secondly, most range extenders are only range extenders.  They are not programmable routers.  You can not use them to build a "guest zone" or any other kind of new network. They generally do not operate as a gateway, but as a bridge.  There is no way to manage IP ports or implement a distinct WPA2 passcode.  And that greatly limits their flexibility.

In short, I'm glad I bought this extender - it is a fun toy and may be useful in a hotel or other zone where one can't improve the location or operation of the primary wifi access point.  But for home use, where the primary wifi base station can be re-located, re-configured, or upgraded, a range extender has limited utility.

2017-01-06

Bad Drivers

They say that 50% of drivers are better than average, and 50% are worse than average.

This is meaningless, as 90% of drivers are lousy, dangerous drivers.

There are a lot of cars out there, and therefore you see a lot of driving nonsense.  Drivers are texting, reading, and eating cereal from a bowl.  Drivers speed into intersections and crosswalks.  They crawl at traffic lights, they quickly accelerate and decelerate due to a lack of attention.  They ignore signs and roadway markings.  They ignorant that the pavement is wet and it's 32° F outside.

In the mean time, the police really can't keep up with it.  Pulling people over for minor infractions is a pointless game, particularly because cars pulled over increase traffic and therefore increases the potential for accidents.  Furthermore, it isn't right to give someone a $100 ticket for a stupid and meaningless infraction.  Cops generally have better things to do.

But when you add it all up, our roads are a dangerous mess.  About 35,000 people a year in the US alone are killed on the roadways.  But wait!  That 35,000 is only counts those that have died, and doesn't bother to count those with lost limbs, brain damage, or a crushed pelvis.  In all, over 3 million Americans are non-fatally maimed or injured every year on US roadways.

What can be done?  Does anyone care?

2017-01-04

Update on MetroPCS Service: Wifi Calling

I have another MetroPCS update, this time related to international travel.

I flew some 5000+ miles to some foreign countries with my MetroPCS-powered iPhone.

First, when I landed, I had no service: no voice, no texting, no SMS.  This wasn't a surprise, as MetroPCS is a US-only provider.

But this lack of service is actually a great thing, because it prevents a huge phone bill.  I recently traveled internationally with my AT&T-powered iPhone, and a few minutes of Internet usage (exclusively to do a flight check-in) cost me $40.  That kind of AT&T gouging won't be happening with MetroPCS.

BUT, there is something more exciting: Wifi Calling from International Locations!

Once I was hooked up to a local Wifi access point, I could make and receive phone calls and texts using my MetroPCS phone number.   So in a way, I was very connected, and had zero additional charges.




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