What size and voltage to use for Lionel train light sockets

Lionel used 15 different types of light bulbs in its O gauge electric trains in the postwar era, but in most cases–87% of catalog numbers, and a lot more than that in actual number of items produced–you can get by with two.

Lionel almost always specified 14 or 18 volts. Using an 18-volt bulb in place of a 14-volt original, or a 22-volt bulb in place of an 18-volt original results in longer service life. And there were two base types that Lionel used more than any other. Read more

My impressions of the TP-Link TL-WR841N

The TP-Link TL-WR841N (and the similar TL-WR841ND) is a lower-mid range router that routinely sells in the $20-$25 range. Although many people consider it an off-brand, TP-Link has had a following in the enthusiast community for a couple of years. I’ve been prone to recommend them because they have a better track record than many of the bigger-name brands of continuing to release firmware upgrades that fix security vulnerabilities. If you’re going to buy a router and leave it stock, you’re better off with a TP-Link than anything else.

I only used the stock firmware to load DD-WRT on it though, so about all I can say is that the TL-WR841N runs DD-WRT really well. Read more

Install an outlet for an above range microwave

We have a house with an above range microwave, but no nearby outlet to plug it into. The previous owners simply ran an extension cord. While I’m not 100% positive this is illegal to do in my locality, the safety is questionable and it certainly goes against the manufacturer’s recommendations. My home inspector wanted me to install an outlet. Here’s how to install an outlet for an above range microwave.

Better yet, I did it over the drywall without tearing into any walls, and spending less than $20.

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How we learn

An article on Lifehacker this week explained a lot about how I initially became a computer professional. Its advice was to fly by the seat of your pants, try things without guidance or manuals, not be afraid to fail occasionally, and learn before you go to sleep.

So when I spent many nights in my late teens disassembling and reassembling obsolete IBM PC/XT clones to learn how they worked, I was unwittingly doing all of it right.

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Replace a microwave over the range

It’s not hard to replace a microwave over the range.

When I bought this house 10 ½ years ago, it had an undercabinet microwave in the kitchen. I don’t know if the previous owners told me how old it was or not. It was an Ewave, which is a brand Magic Chef uses when they don’t want to put the Magic Chef brand on it. So it was a budget manufacturer’s lowest-tier microwave. It was a little temperamental but mostly worked, so I can’t complain about it all that much.

But it got worse over the last couple of months–the right keypresses registered about half the time when you used the keypad–so we decided we were going to replace it just as soon as we could. Finances have been tight this year, but fortunately we got a sale right around the time we were able to afford to get one. We picked up a low-end Whirlpool microwave on special for $50 below retail, which essentially meant we got a Whirlpool for the price of a Magic Chef. It’s bigger than our Magic Chef was, and gets better reviews than the current Magic Chef appliances.

That just left the question of installation. Read more

Losing my lunch

The worst Mondays have to be the day after a long weekend, or, as I’m fond of putting it, when Monday happens on Tuesday.

This particular Monday-on-a-Tuesday didn’t start well. I staggered in to work at 6 AM, and my boss said, well, let’s just say he didn’t say I looked well.

At 11 AM, lunchtime finally came. My lunchtime routine for years now has been to bring a frozen meal from home and microwave it. Everyone knows it. But not today, I didn’t. I went looking for my lunch, and couldn’t find it. “What are you doing?” my boss asked. “And why do you have your coat?”

“I lost my lunch,” I told my boss. That phrase has some history in my parts. Read more

Maybe this is how Apple does it

Sitting in the stands at a baseball game the day after Steve Jobs’ surprise resignation from Apple, of course the subject came up.

“I wish I knew how Apple does it,” I said.

“I have an idea,” my friend Tom Gatermann said.
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Instant welding with Aileene’s Tacky Glue

I’m not sure where I read this first, but I love this trick for making instant repairs. If you’re putting together something made of paper, wood, or a combination of the two, join it together with a bit of Aileene’s Tacky Glue (this may also work with ordinary Elmer’s white glue or Elmer’s wood glue), then zap it in a microwave for 20 seconds. That 20 seconds is enough to instantly cure the glue for a strong bond.

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LED night lights

With two young kids, we find ourselves fumbling around in the kitchen at night more than just occasionally. At some point, we turned to flipping the microwave’s night light on.Which was fine, except I found that one of its settings uses 30 watts, the other 60, and more often than not, that light stays lit 24/7. That’s more power than I want to leave on full time. LED night lights solve that problem neatly. Read more

My hot water heater: 1984-2008

I think my hot water heater died today. I thought my shower seemed colder than usual today, and in the late afternoon my wife reported no hot water in the kitchen.

It could be something simple, but even if it is, it’s time.Let’s consider this. In 1984, Ronald Reagan was president. The Kansas City Royals went to the playoffs. The big name in video games was Atari. People were predicting that video game consoles had no future. The big names in personal computers were (alphabetically) Apple, Commodore, IBM, and Radio Shack. Only one is still in that business. It was the year that Chrysler popularized the minivan. It was the year Apple introduced the Macintosh, popularizing the graphical interface and the mouse. Not only did MTV still play videos, but that was all they played. Not every home had a VCR. For that matter, not every home had a microwave. It cost 20 cents to mail a letter, and on average, a gallon of gas cost $1.21. (I remember it being a lot less than that in Missouri.)

The world that built that hot water heater is a lot different from the world we live in today.

About four years ago, a plumber came out to work on it. It was giving me problems then, but under the conditions of my home warranty, he had to bubblegum it back together. I asked how long it had. He said its realistic life expectancy was about 12 years, so it was about 8 years beyond that. It could last another six months, but it could last years.

So now the question is what to replace it with. The stingy Scottish miser in me sees tankless water heaters claiming to save you $150 a year and really likes that. I went to Lowe’s this evening and tried to buy one. There were several reasons why I don’t own one right now.

First, they don’t keep very many in stock. They had exactly one, even though their website said they had two of two different models. The one they had wasn’t the model I really wanted.

Two, they don’t install them. They’ll sell one to you, but then you have to find someone to install it on your own.

Three, they cost more to install than a conventional tank heater. Sometimes as much as the heater itself.

And then I found a controversial column that did the math, and said that a tankless heater might not actually save you any money anyway. I can’t find fault with his logic.

One thing I noticed is that the tankless heaters that the big-box stores sell are 85% efficient. The tank heaters are 76% efficient. The propaganda for the tankless heaters always assumes lower efficiency than that. As best I can tell, the heater I have is 67%, a little lower than the literature assumes.

So it seems to me that if a tankless heater that’s 18% more efficient than what I have now will save me $100-$150 a year, then a conventional heater that’s 76% efficient ought to save me $50-$75 per year, right?

The tank heaters sell for around $320, and installation is about $260. By the time you pay for taxes and the nickel-and-dime extras, it’s $600-$700.

Half the savings for 1/3 the price sounds pretty good. And I can buy one pretty much anywhere and have it installed tomorrow if I make the purchase before noon.

And it will pay for itself in 8-12 years. A tankless heater would pay for itself in about 13, if all the claims are true. If I make a mistake today, either way I go I’ll be likely to be revisiting it in about 12 years anyway. By then, tankless heaters will be more common and probably cost less than they do now (adjusting for inflation of course).

I’ll call the plumber who bubblegummed my old unit back together in the morning. Depending on what he says about the cost of installing a tankless heater, I’ll make a decision. But at this point, I think I’m leaning towards buying the most energy efficient conventional heater I can find.