Where the red wire goes in a light fixture

A friend was replacing a light fixture in his bathroom and ran into something confusing–a red wire in the electrical box. And when he hooked up his new light fixture, he did what I would expect the majority of homeowners to do–he connected the white wire on the fixture to the white wires in the box, and the black wire on the fixture to the black wires on the box. And then his light switch wouldn’t work–the light stayed on all the time.

He was on the right track when he asked what the red wire is for. That was the key to solving his problem.

Continue reading Where the red wire goes in a light fixture

How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

Connecting old computers and consoles to not-as-old televisions is frequently a challenge, and, sadly, the VIC-20, Commodore’s runaway bestseller from 1982, is no exception to that.

And unfortunately, there are fewer options for connecting a VIC than there are the slightly newer and more common C-64. But it can be done. Here’s how.

Continue reading How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

Here’s a better laptop than the typical Black Friday specials

If you want a better laptop than the typical Black Friday special, I found just the thing: this Dell Latitude E6420 laptop from Newegg, for $225 (the price is good through Sunday, Nov. 22). It has several things going for it: it comes with Windows 7 Professional, so you can upgrade to Windows 10 when you want and you’ll get the better, more-feature-filled, easier-to-secure Professional version; you can upgrade the memory to 8 GB of RAM, and it comes with a 128GB SATA SSD, so you can drop in a bigger, faster SSD at a later date.

Continue reading Here’s a better laptop than the typical Black Friday specials

Lenovo and Best Buy team up for a $149 laptop this year

Cheap laptops are nothing new this time of year–they’ve been practically a holiday tradition since 2002 when Sotec released a decent laptop for $900, which was jaw-droppingly low for the time–but this year, Best Buy is selling a Lenovo Ideapad 100s for $149.99, which, while not jaw-droppingly low given the number of $199 laptops that were available last year, is still the cheapest name-brand laptop I’ve seen.

I’ve seen some reviews, but there is one thing I haven’t seen anyone bring up yet: This is a netbook in every way, except I think we’re supposed to call them cloudbooks now. So keep that in mind. The machine is probably worth $149.99, but it made some compromises to reach that price point.

Continue reading Lenovo and Best Buy team up for a $149 laptop this year

Available diameters of tubular O and O27 track

A frequent question, especially for those who are just discovering or rediscovering vintage Lionel and Marx trains is what sizes of track are (or were) available, and how many pieces come to a circle.

Unlike other scales, Lionel marketed its track by diameter, not radius. As you undoubtedly remember from geometry class, radius is the distance from the center of the circle to the edge, while diameter is the distance from edge to edge. So a circle of O27 track is approximately 27 inches. O27 track stands about 3/8 of an inch tall, while higher end O gauge (also sometimes called O31) track stands taller, at about 11/16 of an inch tall.

Here are the available sizes, in ascending order.

Continue reading Available diameters of tubular O and O27 track

How to cut corners on baseboards by not cutting corners

Cutting baseboards can be tricky. Rooms are rarely perfectly square, so just cutting baseboards at 45-degree angles on the ends doesn’t usually yield a perfect corner. So instead you usually have to fit the pieces into the corner, trace the outline of one onto the other, then trace the angle onto the top and bottom, then cut the outline with a coping saw–at the correct angle.

But what if I told you that you didn’t have to?

Continue reading How to cut corners on baseboards by not cutting corners

How to mark vinyl tile on the front

Sometimes when you’re cutting a vinyl tile to fit an intricate spot on the floor, you need to mark it on the front for cutting, rather than the back. And you’ll find that pencil and pen marks wipe away on the vinyl before you can finish cutting.

Here’s an easy answer: Use a crayon. The marks will most likely be covered by whatever trim work you lay, but if not, the crayon wipes away with a bit of effort–but it actually takes some effort, which means your marks will be there when you need to cut.

Using Splunk to find bad guys in your network

I’ve covered event logging before, but the excellent site Malware Archaelogy has some cheat sheets that include Splunk queries you can use to find incidents or malware operating in your network, or even use to create dashboards so you can keep an eye on things. Malware Archaelogy’s list of events to log is a bit different from what I covered before, but there’s a considerable amount of overlap. You probably want what they recommend and what anyone else is recommending.

The key to corporate computer security is situational awareness, and I don’t think anyone sells a blinky box that provides enough of that. But you can build it with Splunk.

And, for what it’s worth, I do recommend Splunk. I’ve used Log Logic in the past, and its searches often take days to finish, which means Log Logic is so slow that by the time you find anything in it, it’s likely to be too late. Splunk isn’t quite real-time, but you can find stuff in a few minutes.

David L. Farquhar, computer security professional and sometime author