Technology

Mar 062014
 

Green Ethernet Switch

A while back our color laser printer became annoying. Every time I went to print something it refused to print. I ended up having to turn it off and on again. Without an off/on cycle it would just sit there in sleep mode.

I don’t print hard-copy nearly as often as I once did, so it didn’t drive me too crazy at first. I just anticipated the step when I needed to print something.

Eventually my wife and daughter started printing a lot more often for work/school projects. Having to keep running to the printer to restart it had become an annoyance for multiple people.

I never did like our Brother color printer. It leaked magenta toner and left streaks. Plus, it was expensive to use: one of those good deals on the hardware, but they get you big time on the supplies. When I realized I was going to have to spend hundreds of dollars on maintenance soon (drum was near the end of it’s life, plus toner running low) I decided to buy a simple black only laser. Plus, I figured something was wrong with the printer as far as waking from sleep, so maybe a new one would save me the hassle of having to constantly hit the power switch.

What surprised me was the new HP printer also didn’t wake from sleep. Something else was obviously going on here.

My first thought was it must be a networking issue. The only piece of gear between the computer and the printer was a network switch.  An energy efficient network switch. And how do those switches save energy? They cut power on unused ports. You probably see where I’m going with this.

People all over the Internet are complaining because their printers will not wake from sleep. I found no solutions posted anywhere.

I decided to do some research on a similar topic. I found that people were having problems using wake-on-lan (WOL) with some green switches. WOL is a method of remotely waking a sleeping computer by sending it a WOL data packet. It appears some green switches would simply not send any data down a line with a sleeping device on the other end. Feature or bug? BUG! It broke the WOL standard. Luckily there’s a large enough hacker community that plays around with WOL for computers. That community debugged the WOL problem. My assumption was that if a computer wouldn’t receive a WOL packet while sleeping, a printer wouldn’t receive printout data while sleeping either.

I replaced the naughty trickster D-Link DGS-2208 with a business level HP ProCurve 1410-8G which was known to handle WOL correctly. The laser printers are back to printing instantly! No more running to the printer to power cycle them.

The new switch is still an energy saving switch. It’s just a properly engineered energy saving switch. So, before you buy a green wired network switch make sure it’s WOL compatible.

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Apr 172013
 

My desk is a horizontal door. Not metaphorically. It’s a real door.

I made my first door-desk when I was a teenager. I still use one today. I have no desire to get a “REAL” desk, because what could be better than a door? They’re big. They’re sturdy. There’s no worrying about damaging expensive furniture, because it’s just a damn door. I’ve attached all kinds of things on my desk with screws, glue, and clamps. The door top of my desk is decades old now, but because doors are constructed to be slammed and kicked the surface still looks like new.

Door-Desk

One secret to making a door desk is to use a solid core door. That makes it heavy and solid. You can screw anything into it and it stays in place. My own desk was stained with a cherry stain on top and black stain on the side. It was the 1980s, after all. I might give it a more natural look these days. The underside doesn’t need any special treatment, so it’s bare. I coated it with a satin polyurethane so it looks like nice furniture and has a waterproof surface. Door desks should be projects of their own, and boy do I have a lot of things attached to mine. Continue reading »

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Dec 142012
 

One of the unexpected issues we had after upgrading to smart phones was that we suddenly wanted WiFi Internet access everywhere in our house and property. With our laptops we had specific places we sat to use them, and the access was fine in those places, but with our smart phones we were up and wandering everywhere. Suddenly we were discovering all the dead zones in the house. For example, when I tried taking my phone to the backyard in the summer with Bluetooth speakers to play music, I found I had to stay within ten feet of the house to maintain access to the local WiFi network. We also found ourselves getting disconnecting upstairs and in the farther end of our living room. Sometimes it depended on which direction we faced. Since our phones have data limits we wanted to save the 4G data use for when we were away from home. It was time to change-up the WiFi.

I loaded up a WiFi signal detector app on the phone and wandered the house. Not only was the signal dropping far from the router, but in the living room our neighbor’s WiFi signal was actually significantly higher than ours. At the time, our router was located in a corner of the basement. That was where the cable company had installed the cable modem. To get better coverage of the entire house I decided to move the router to the very center of the house on the main floor.

It just so happened that the center of our house is a hall closet. I had our entertainment system in this closet with long wires connecting it to the TV and speakers in the living room. I put it there because when I was a kid we pulled the channel knob off the TV (yes, it was long enough ago that we had knobs) and dropped paper clips inside, shorting the TV out. I’ve watched little kids try to put all kinds of objects into CD and DVD players. When our daughter, Coral, was born I moved our entire entertainment system to a top shelf in the hall closet to keep it out of her reach. Being eight years old now, I actually want her to be able to reach the Blu-ray drive on her own.

Central-Wifi

So, I moved the receiver and media PC to a cabinet in the living room, and moved the router into the closet. This did the trick. We now had WiFi coverage all through the house.

Of course, I couldn’t just stop there. My neighbor’s router was still stronger than ours in the living room! Looking online, I found they now had higher-powered and faster routers. I upgraded. My laptop can now connect at nearly Gigabit wired speeds. I walked our property from the street to the back fence: we have an excellent signal everywhere on our property. We’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and we don’t even think about WiFi access anymore because it’s always connected no matter where we are at home.

Next summer I suspect we’ll enjoy sitting outside in the yard with our networked music or radio streaming, checking mail, and posting to Facebook. We won’t have to limit ourselves to ten feet from the house. Having access to streaming radio and music will also make it much more enjoyable when I finally get around to cleaning out and repairing our old garage. It really needs it. Luckily it’s winter right now, so I won’t think about that chore any further.

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Sep 122012
 

We just upgraded our phones to Android Smart Phones. It’s like having another computer to setup! We finally settled on the apps we like, and life seems easier, especially now that I’m no longer constantly messing with the device.

Last week I was at the world science fiction convention. Instead of my laptop, I only brought the phone. Doing this was an experiment. Would I miss the bigger screen and keyboard? I didn’t! Only having the phone was great. What really impressed me was being able to load, process, and post photos from my big honking DSLR camera on this small device. It was so fast and easy. I’ll post about my photography setup another day.

For now, here are my favorite general apps yet so far:

Swiftkey 3
I now consider this a mandatory keyboard replacement for touch devices. I switched to it right away, while my wife continued to use the default keyboard. After a few weeks I convinced her to try it. Took, oh, about a minute for her to be totally won over. It’s one of those word suggesting keyboards. As you type it tries to guess what word you want and displays it’s best three guesses. Touch the word and it’s inserted with a space. The phone’s default keyboard had this feature as well, but the logic behind the word suggestions is leaps ahead with SwiftKey. It effectively samples and learns your words choices and makes better guesses. I discovered you can also enter words without apostrophes and it’ll suggest it with the apostrophe, thus avoiding that extra step of accessing shifted characters. It also recognizes when you backspace to a word and suggests different forms of the word, like adding “ed” or “ing”. This keyboard makes typing longer text messages on a tiny touch keyboard a reasonable task. Yet so far, I was only caught once by it accidentally inserting the wrong word, and that was because I didn’t realize at first that the best thing to do is always touch a suggested word instead of pressing the space bar, as the space bar inserts the center suggestion, which is not always what you want. After a few days it all started feeling natural, the software had learned my style, and no more wrong word picks. Highly recommended.

Shush!
This app is also mandatory for me. With my old phone I was always putting it in vibrate mode for meetings or shows, and then forgetting I’d shushed it. It would often vibrate unheard in another room until I remembered to turn the ringer back on. Shush automatically allows quickly and easily setting a time period that the phone should remain in quiet mode. Go into an hour long meeting, set it to one hour. Go to the movies, set it for two hours or so. It’s easy to use, as it automatically pops up the Shush time selection screen whenever you use the volume rocker to set the volume to zero. Highly recommended.

Juice Defender Ultimate
One more mandatory app for me. One problem with smart phones is they can be battery hogs. This app allows setting schedules for power hungry connections and syncing, and setting times of the day to automatically enter a sleeping quiet mode. It helps control screen brightness, and generally just helps make the battery last longer. Work very well, though some apps still can drain the battery in less than a day if you spend way too many hours with your eyes glued to the screen. It also handles automatically switching to your regularly used Wi-Fi connections based on learned GPS locations, thus avoiding overuse of the 4G or 3G data links without constantly having to choose a Wi-Fi connection. Highly recommended.

ES File Explorer
I’m a computer guy. I like full access and control of my system drives. This file explorer gives me that. It makes it easy to open, copy, move, and rename files between various storage locations. It gives me fast access to the main drive, the external card, plugged-in devices, LAN drives (like my networked Synology Raid), FTP servers, etc.. A Favorites feature makes it easy to jump to often used folders. I can now easily use the phone to manage files without having to connect the phone to a computer first.

Evernote
Evernote is an easy to use list and note taker that keeps notes, photos, recorded notes, and attachments in cloud storage. It’s interface is good because it’s made for small screens and allows easy sharing. There are also lots of plug-ins available for browsers. Good way to maintain notes and to-do lists.

CalenGoo
This is the calender program I settled on. The main reason I chose it was how well it synced multiple Google Calenders. It allows me to quickly toggle which of many calenders are shown on the phones calender, both those you can modify and those you can’t. This allows me to sync my wife’s schedule, my daughter’s schedule (my wife and I both maintain this one together), and my schedule, along with overlaying a holiday calender, 5 day weather calender, and birthday/events calender. With a single press I can toggle between just my schedule and everyone’s schedule together. It’s not as graphically pretty as some calender apps, but I actually like that because it uses every pixel for data, and that gives you more detail when looking at a month calender on a small phone screen. Now that we have a single calender with everyone’s schedules on it there should be fewer surprises, like those late school meetings my wife would forget to tell me about.

MailDroid
I’ve been using personal email servers for a long time and have multiple e-mail addresses. I also like to download all my e-mails for searching and archiving rather than trusting them on a cloud service like Gmail. So, while my wife just uses the built-in GMail client, I decided on MailDroid. It just works more like a good old mail client. It also allows archiving e-mails into your own folders, and flagging emails, including as spam. The feature that probably won me over was how it handled advanced email viewing: it automatically downloads only the text, but turn the phone to landscape and press one icon and it displays the email full screen with all graphics and formatting. Makes for very easy reading on a phone. This is not a program I think everyone will love. GMail users will likely want to stick to the GMail client, and others may prefer a simpler programs with a prettier interface, but it does what I need very well.

MX Player Pro
Plays back many video file formats and includes multiprocessor support. Just a good video player.

Find Me Gluten Free
A program to find restaurants that can handle gluten-free diets. Easier to use than the Yelp interface.

Out of Milk
My wife and I use this to update the grocery list. We maintain one list and update it whenever we think of something that should be added. You can cross items off with a swipe as you pick them up, and it includes a barcode scanner. A simple one purpose tool without being overly complex.

Smart Tools
These are a set of tools including a Flashlight, Compass, Level, Ruler, Protractor, Sound Meter, Vibrometer, Distance Measuring Tool.

TouchPad
A remote control program for Windows, which I can use to control the computer connected to our TV. Includes additional menus for media playback and web browsing. Gives me some access to the living room’s media computer when the mini-wireless keyboard is missing.

MDScan & CamCard
MDScan is an easy way to take photos of documents and have them stored as a single PDF file. It does a good job of very quickly straightening and cleaning up pages to make them readable. CamCard is a similar program except specifically for business cards. I like these, but the phone is too new to tell how often I’ll ultimately use them.

And here are some more apps now on the phone:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Amazon Mobile (for buying stuff or price lookups)
  • Dolphin Browser (a better phone browser than the default)
  • Dropbox
  • EJay (LiveJournal App, for checking the blogs of the last holdouts)
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Goodreads
  • Google Maps
  • Google Sky Map
  • Google Voice (we mostly use it for free texting when needed)
  • Groupon
  • IMDd
  • LivingSocial
  • NetFlix
  • Pandora
  • Recipes
  • QR Droid & RedLaser
  • Skype (works very well on my phone, but a data and power hog)
  • TuneIn Radio Pro
  • Twitter
  • WordPress
  • Yelp


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Mar 192012
 

I was using Philips Pronto remotes for over a decade. No more. My last one just died.

The Pronto was a really cool device when it first came out. From the beginning it included a fully programmable touch screen graphic interface and could replace a pile of remote controls with programmable automation. This was way before tablets and smart phones. You could build a glitzy interface and set one button to do multiple actions, like turn one the TV, turn on the receiver, switch inputs, turn on the DVD player, dim the lights, etc..

Due to all the competition from tablets, smart phones, and other cheap devices and apps, Philips stopped making the Pronto last year. There are now hundreds of automation options available. I started looking into what to use to replace the old Pronto, and quickly decided to take a totally different route.  I’d just code up my own.

Continue reading »

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