Pros and cons of RightTrack or SnapShot devices

Insurance companies are starting to offer discounts if you plug one of their devices, often called a RightTrack or SnapShot, into your car’s ODB2 port.

One of my college buddies asked me about them when his insurance company offered his family a 5% discount to plug these into their cars, and then make them eligible for up to another 25%. Those are compelling numbers. So what are the potential drawbacks?

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Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

The Department 56 product line is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and “Department 56 scale” is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.

The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.

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Use asphalt roofing shingles for cheap and easy roads and ballast

I saw a great idea in a train layout photo last week–you can make ballast for your track out of asphalt shingles.

My first thought was that you can get asphalt shingles for free when someone in your neighborhood is getting a new roof. Just ask for a few of the old shingles. Hauling the old shingles away costs money, so they’re likely to oblige. Or, if you’re impatient, some stores will sell you damaged shingles cheaply if you come in when business is slow and you ask. For best results, be friendly, and buy more than just the damaged shingles.

My second thought is that you can use gray shingles for ballast, and if you can score a second slightly different color from a different house, you can use those to make roads.

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Build the best, most secure wifi in your neighborhood

My neighbor asked me for advice on setting up wi-fi in his new house. I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written about wi-fi, and it’s never been cheaper or easier to blanket your house and yard with a good signal.

Blanketing your house and yard while remaining secure, though, is still important.

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Yes, we need to run vulnerability scans inside the firewall

I got an innocent question last week. We’d been scanning an AIX server with Nexpose, a vulnerability scanner made by Rapid7, and ran into some issues. The system owner then asked a question: The server is behind a firewall and has no direct connection to the Internet and no data itself, it’s just a front-end to two other servers. Is there any reason to scan a server like that?

In my sysadmin days, I asked a similar question. Nobody could give me an answer that was any better than “because reasons.” So I’ll answer the question and give the reasons.

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Mariott doesn’t have the right to jam wi-fi

Mariott wants to jam wi-fi signals. They claim it’s for security reasons, but really it’s so they can gouge guests by charging them for wi-fi instead of using wi-fi hotspots. The security claims are pure bunk.

The truth is that hotel wi-fi networks are generally horrendously insecure, so it’s really better to avoid using them if you can.

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Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

Hobby shops frequently carry a decent selection of figures for O and S gauge layouts, but if you look at the magazines long enough, you start to see almost all of them have the same figures–and they’re probably the same figures the shop near you sells as well.

There are ways to get a better variety of figures so your layout can have something distinctive about it–and the good news is you can save some money doing it as well.

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Retracing the Home Depot attackers’ steps

New details emerged on the Home Depot attack that left 56 million consumers with compromised credit cards. The interesting thing in the new details is that it could have been much worse, but maybe not for reasons immediately obvious.

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The power company’s aid in saving energy

My local electric company is going to start including a power usage comparison on the monthly bill.

For the last several years, they’ve been sending one annually, but it’s not all that hard to miss it. This is why I generally know I use less electricity year over year, but I don’t know how many people actually see the report. Read more