Wiring an old house for Ethernet

Wiring an old house for Ethernet can be challenging but offers real benefits. Wired Ethernet is faster and more reliable than wireless, so devices that have a wired connection can take advantage of it. Having wired connections also allows you to distribute wireless access points throughout your house for better, faster coverage.

So you even if you’re a heavy wireless user, there’s a lot to gain from having good wired connections. Believe it or not, you can do it with simple tools and very little tearing into your walls.

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A simple fix for an Asus Memopad 7 that wouldn’t charge

I’ve written enough about the Asus Memopad HD 7 that you can probably surmise I’ve had a few issues with them. Fortunately the fix is usually simple, and in the case of a Memopad that won’t charge even after you did my battery fix, that’s true as well.

It started with my observation that the USB cable fit rather loosely into my sons’ tablets. I cleaned out the mini-USB port with a wooden toothpick, which is a common fix, but it didn’t help–the cable still fit very loosely and the device wouldn’t charge.

Then I tried other cables. I found most of them didn’t work either. If I set something heavy on top, they would charge for a while, but doing that caused the cables to wear out in a matter of weeks. Finally I figured out the tablets are just picky–or at least they are once they get some age to them. The charger for the Moto E, which has a hardwired cable, works fine. So does some other random cable I had that I never used for anything else because it happens to be so short it’s not useful for anything else. I bought some new Monoprice cables, and while they’re fine for data transfer, these Memo Pad 7s don’t like them for charging.

I really hate to say try every USB cable in the house, but… your best first step is to try every USB cable in the house. And if you have to buy a cable, buy something locally, ideally in a store that will try it out with you before purchase. If you don’t have a store with that kind of service near you anymore, then buy a cable and try it out in the parking lot in your car right away before driving home. That way you can exchange the cable right away, or get a refund, if it doesn’t work any better than what you already had.

In the city, a $6 antenna is all you need

There are a lot of good plans for DIY antennas on the web that you can make for less than $10 worth of parts, which is good considering the flood of $50 antennas on the market that are little more than hype.

A couple of years ago I made a Gray-Hoverman antenna. I had no complaints about how it worked, but it wasn’t very durable. And in St. Louis it was overkill–it picked up everything tvfool.com said I could get indoors and nothing more. No SIUC PBS station for me. A Gray-Hoverman is probably more useful along the eastern seaboard where the cities and TV stations are closer together.

Rather than fix the Gray-Howerman yet again, or build something else, I bought a basic, traditional-looking RCA ANT111F for $6. Even the simplest DIY antenna, made primarily of a cardboard box with aluminum foil, costs $3-$4 in materials to make and my time is worth more than the difference. If my kids were a bit older, a DIY antenna would be a great science experiment to do with them, but they aren’t.

I did find my reception in the basement, below ground level, was pretty abysmal. The range seemed to be less than five miles, and I could only get about five channels. But on the first floor, with the antenna about seven feet above ground level, my range is 10-12 miles, depending on the strength of the distant signal, and I could get 30 channels. To improve reception in the basement, I connected a longer cable to the antenna (using a cheap keystone jack as a coupler) so I could put it up in the ceiling, closer to ground level. When I did that, I could get 24 channels, though the signal strength wasn’t all that good.

One thing to remember when changing or repositioning an antenna: always scan for new channels afterward.

How to build a Christmas day cable emergency kit

Most consumer electronics don’t come with the cables, because cables are a high-margin, high-markup item. Many people don’t know that. And many people give and receive consumer electronics on Christmas day.

If you want to be a hero, I recommend paying Monoprice a visit. Monoprice sells all of the most common cables at deep discounts. I recommend picking up a couple of the most common types of USB cables and at least one HDMI cable to start with. If you think of others, go for it. For around $20, you can build up a sizable emergency kit.

And if this is the first you’ve heard of Monoprice, pay them a visit. They’re the best source I’ve found for inexpensive cables of reasonable quality, and if you want premium cables, their premium offerings are still reasonably priced.

Coming soon to Monoprice: WQHD monitors

Monoprice dropped a bomb at CES this week: a 27″ IPS LED monitor with WQHD 2560×1440 resolution for $390.

From what I understand, there are several Korean manufacturers who make monitors from surplus or rejected panels intended for Apple displays, then sell them for under $400.

This looks like Monoprice signed on to distribute them in the United States, which seems less risky than buying them from a small importer or exporter off Amazon or Ebay. These monitors are popular with enthusiasts, but I imagine with Monoprice distributing them, the following will only increase. Monoprice is a bit of a secret too, but I heard of Monoprice long before I heard of Korean-made WQHD monitors.

Monoprice estimates they’ll be shipping them by March.

How to be a hero next Christmas (or your next family get-together)

My mother in law didn’t have wifi set up, but she picked up a smart TV this year, so she asked me if I could help her with it. So I picked up a D-Link DIR-615 on sale, brought it with me and set up wi-fi securely (hints: set the SSID to whatever time it happens to be, disable WPS, disable WEP and WPA, and use WPA2 with a long password with some numbers and symbols in it) and once it seemed to be working right, I put her TV and laptop on it. Then, as other relatives trickled in, they asked me for the wireless key. Soon the air was full of Androids and Apples chattering away on wireless.

She said she never realized how often we use our smartphones and tablets. Any time a question came up, someone whipped out a device and looked up the answer.It was nice, and it was a cheap project. Grab a name-brand wireless router on sale, grab a couple of extra CAT5e cables from Monoprice just in case, and you can be a hero for about the cost of dinner for two at any restaurant with sit-down table service. Maybe less.

While you’re ordering stuff from Monoprice, it probably wouldn’t hurt to pick up a small assortment of cheap USB and HDMI cables too, just in case anyone gave an electronic gadget to someone else and didn’t realize gadgets are more likely to come with batteries than with cables these days.

Review: Insignia NS20EM50A13 monitor

My 15-inch Dell LCD died this weekend. Its date of manufacture was October 2001, so I can’t complain. I bought it used a number of years ago and paid a pittance for it. It had been acting up for more than a year, and at least it had the decency to wait until a potential replacement was on sale before dying completely.

Best Buy had its house-brand 20″ LED monitor on sale for $90, and I had a gift card with a few dollars on it, so I braved Best Buy again, and found a good low-end monitor for the money. Read more

A shortcut for wiring your house with Ethernet

As convenient as wireless is, wireless will never match the security, speed, and reliability of wired Ethernet. I ran some wired Ethernet jacks in mid-2009 and have no regrets, but on my last trip to Lowe’s, I spied a nifty shortcut for wiring: an Ethernet coupler that plugs into a standard keystone jack. They were expensive, but looked like a good way to cut out the most consuming part of wiring a house. I looked online, and they cost less than $2 from Amazon. Read more

Downed by a network cable

My web server fell off the network today. I assumed the onboard network card had died, because all the standard troubleshooting got me nowhere. I couldn’t ping it, it couldn’t ping anything else, and ifconfig eth0 showed it was transmitting, but not receiving anything. And restarting all of my network equipment didn’t help.

So I dug around for a network card and struggled to remember how to configure a NIC in Linux, seeing as that’s something I haven’t had to do in six or seven years. But first I hoped I could just plug in a NIC and it would work, like magic. It happens sometimes.

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If you’ve been delaying upgrading your network, keep delaying

If you’ve been procrastinating about deploying 450-megabit (802.11n) wi-fi to your house, I have a reason for you to procrastinate a while longer: Gigabit wireless (802.11ac).

It’s only about twice as fast as its predecessor, which pales next to the 8x improvement 802.11n provided over 802.11g, but if you’re wanting to stream HD media through your house, you’ll notice the difference.
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