Using a router as a switch

Most of us have an old router like a Linksys WRT54G laying around, or if we don’t, it’s very easy to find one–the nearest garage sale or thrift store is a good bet–but sometimes all we need is a switch, to hook up a couple more computers or other devices to a wired connection. Using a router as a switch wastes some of its capabilities, but it’s easy to do.

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How to convert any ATX or microATX case to silent operation

Now that SSDs and CPUs that consume 10 watts are readily available and inexpensive, it’s possible for almost any mainstream PC to be a silent PC. You can of course buy new cases for silent-PC builds, but if you want to upgrade and save a little money while doing it, you can easily convert a legacy case of almost any age to work silently. If you have an AC adapter from a discarded or disused laptop or LCD monitor, you can do this project for less than $30. Here’s how.

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Password advice in the wake of Heartbleed

I’ve seen a lot of bad password advice lately. Guessing passwords is just too easy for a computer to do, especially as they get more and more powerful.

Formulas are bad, but unavoidable, so here’s what I recommend if you’re not going to use a password manager creating completely random passwords: Unverifiable (or difficult to verify) facts. Things like what house you lived in in 2001 and what you paid for it. Better yet, your favorite baseball card and what you paid for it. Or maybe the address and phone number of your favorite long-gone pizza or BBQ joint. Think along those lines.

T206Wagner$0.50 was a reasonably good password before I published it here (you paid 50 cents for one at a garage sale! Right?) only because it contains an unverifiable fact. I guarantee T206Wagner$1M (the value of the most valuable baseball card in existence) is in all the password lists these days.

This isn’t especially great advice, but it’s something that there’s half a chance people will be willing to follow, and it pretty much forces passwords to have a nice mix of character types and to be at least 12-16 characters long. I don’t think it forces enough non-alphanumeric characters, or a wide enough variety of them, but left to choice most people won’t put any of them in. It would become lousy advice if very many people chose to follow it, but I know few will, and most people will continue to use the weakest passwords a site allows, so it’s adequate for a while.

The most important thing is to make it personal. What I paid for favorite baseball cards is easy for me to remember. If you never collected baseball cards, think of something along those lines that’s easy for you to remember, with a spin that’s hard for someone else, computer or otherwise, to guess.

How I turned a junker PC into a trap for scammers

Note: I wrote this almost a year ago. It wasn’t good enough to publish then, I thought. This week I’m slammed, and it’s better than anything I can write this week, so, it’s time to release it. -Dave

As my regulars will be aware, for the past few weeks I’ve been getting lots of phone calls from “Peggy” from “Computer Maintenance Department.” What I’ve found during these phone calls is that debating with them does no good, and saying that your computer is crazy fast gets them to hang up on you, but they’ll call back again in a few days anyway.

Last week, I had lunch with a group of future coworkers–I’ll be joining them once my background check results come in–and I mentioned these phone calls. The guy sitting across the table from me said he wants their malware, so he can reverse-engineer it. So I said I would cooperate the next time I got a phone call. Read more

Kickin’ my wireless oldskool, WRT54G-style

I found a couple of old Linksys WRT54G routers and decided to load DD-WRT on them. The first one, an abandoned-by-Linksys WRT54GS model, gave me some trouble, which led me to buying a TP-Link unit to run DD-WRT on. The second unit, which was a vanilla WRT54G, still had firmware available on Linksys’ site, so the upgrade was somewhat straightforward–it went by the book, at least. I installed the latest Linksys firmware, then installed the DD-WRT mini build, then upgraded to the full build.

Linksys WRT54g obsolete
This Linksys WRT54G was one of the best pieces of computer hardware of its day. I can’t recommend it as a router anymore but it can still help you out as an access point.

After getting DD-WRT running on it, I configured it to behave as an access point on channel 6. I was surprised at how strong the signal was. Years ago, I ran a pair of WRT54G routers, and they struggled to cover the house. It’s possible that was due to age, or perhaps I was getting too much interference from my neighbors since we were probably all running our wireless on the default channel in those days because none of us knew better.

As for my WRT54GS, when I tried to upgrade it, I got a nice message stating, “Upgrade are failed!” Nice. Too bad it didn’t add “All your base are belong to us.” That’s when I learned you need to install the last Linksys upgrade first, then upgrade from that. So I downloaded that from some forum, tried flashing that, and received the same message. So I set it aside, figuring I bricked the unit. A few days later, after getting the WRT54G running, I fired up the GS, visited its configuration page, and… found DD-WRT running on it! Upgrade are failed? More like all your upgrade are belong to ME.

In all honesty, I probably got lucky. It’s always best to go by the book on things like this.

The WRT54G is limited, of course, to 802.11b and 802.11g (54 megabits max) but as a complement to a more modern router, it still has a few tricks left. If you have one laying around, it won’t cost anything aside from about 30 minutes’ worth of effort to load DD-WRT on it and see what it can still do for you.

And if you don’t happen to have one laying around, it’s not hard to find a used WRT54G. I find them at estate sales, garage sales, and rummage sales pretty frequently because a lot of people set them aside when they either buy newer, faster routers or their ISP forces them into an all-in-one unit. Don’t pay too much for it, because it’s aging technology, but I’d say they’re worth grabbing for $5 or less.

Don’t build a drill press out of PVC pipe

This past weekend, Lifehacker posted instructions for building a makeshift drill press out of PVC pipe. Although the finished contraption looks kind of cool, it’s not something you want to build yourself.

My drill press cost me $40. It’s far better and far safer, even though it’s still possible to injure yourself with it. But structurally it’s as sound as it gets, and acquiring it didn’t take me all weekend, either. Read more

Something that shouldn’t be there

I was standing in line to get a number for an estate sale this weekend–they’re what I do–and found myself standing a couple of people behind someone who talks too much.

I think some people talk because they want affirmation, and telling tales of what they’ve found is the way they get it. I’m very careful what I talk about, because I frequently see new people who look for exactly the same thing I look for, and if I just give away the knowledge I’ve spent years learning, it literally costs me money. But that’s not how a lot of people think, so if you keep your ears open, you can hear some good information.

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Notes on the Compaq Presario SR2011WM

I’ve been working on a Compaq Presario SR2011WM. It’s a basic, low-end, single-core Celeron D system from 2006 or so. It can take up to 2 GB of RAM, runs Windows XP adequately, and has SATA ports, so you can put an SSD in it if you want. But don’t be fooled by the name–the Celeron in this machine is single core, and has a Prescott-era Pentium 4 core in it at that, not a low-TDP, Pentium D-style core.

In case you’re wondering, the easiest way to get it to boot from USB is to plug in a USB drive, hit ESC as the system runs POST, then select your USB drive from the menu.

Now let’s talk about options for upgrades. Read more

It’s time to strike down the red-light cameras

I saw some abuses of the red-light cameras on the news at noon. In one case, the car next to the one that ran the light got the ticket. In another, the owner wasn’t driving the car. The reporter asked the mayor of Florissant, Thomas Schneider, if that was fair.

“It’s safe,” he said. And he said the same thing to every other question the reporter asked.

That’s debatable. But guess what? Josef Stalin’s regime was very safe. Do what Stalin said, and you were safe. That doesn’t make Stalin fair, right, or ethical. It doesn’t make Schneider fair, right, or ethical either.

It’s not safe, either.

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Value Village and Affton could be very good for one another

There’s a Value Village thrift store in Shrewsbury that’s being displaced because the plaza it’s in–the same place I used to go to buy Commodore gear–is going to be demolished to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Whether Shrewsbury needs a Wal-Mart Supercenter when there’s one six miles away is another question for another day.

Value Village needs someplace to go, and Affton has an available retail space that’s been empty since the hardware store previously occupying it went out of business more than a year ago. County councilman Steve Stenger (D-Affton) wants to block the move, essentially saying that Affton is too good for a place like Value Village. Read more