An update on the shortcut to wiring a house with Ethernet

An update on the shortcut to wiring a house with Ethernet

Last week, I presented a shortcut for wiring a house with Ethernet using cheap keystone couplers. I’m happy to say I’ve done it twice now, and it all works, but I wanted to follow up and share a little more experience now that I’ve wired about a dozen ports this way.

Read more

How I bought a battery for my aged laptop

The aged battery in my aged Dell Inspiron E1505 held on better than I expected, but when I went to upgrade the machine–I upgraded it with two unsupported but perfectly functional 2 GB SODIMMs and then installed a Samsung 830 SSD–the battery went downhill fast.

I did the memory first, and the battery wasn’t happy with me. I literally went from about three hours of battery life to 20 minutes immediately after the change. Maybe it was a coincidence, and maybe not. Installing the SSD extended the battery life a little, but not enough to make it useful. It was time for a new battery.

There are pitfalls with buying batteries for aged hardware. Here’s how I negotiated them. Read more

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 3 of 3

This is part 3 in my series on Facebook and avoiding pitfalls. Here’s part 1.

Too many friends

Psychology professor and self-help pioneer Jess Lair used to ask people if they had five friends. If they said no, he said to go make some–with fewer than five, you wear your friends out. If they said they had a lot more than five, he said no they don’t–they have a lot of acquaintances. People don’t have enough time and energy to maintain more than about five deep friendships.

I think about that when I see people who have hundreds of Facebook friends. One Facebook meme I’ve seen is people posting a status update that just says, “Tell me how I know you?”

By hiding game/app updates, you can make it a lot easier to keep up with larger numbers of people. Hiding friends who post excessively helps as well.

But the odd thing is, even though I’ve done these things, there are still friends I’ve never seen a status update from. They appear to be active. Many of them have hundreds or thousands of friends. Whether they’re using filters and I’m just not in any group that gets their updates, or whether Facebook just isn’t designed to handle hundreds of relationships, I don’t know.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to keep in touch with large numbers of people, but don’t let the “friends” misnomer get in the way of the relationships that are most important to you.

The power of lists to filter updates and avoid conflict

Sometimes you may post something that you suspect will rile certain friends up. Hopefully it will be a small number of them. Before posting, click on the lock icon, and there’s an option there labeled hide. Start typing the names of friends you don’t want to see the post, then select them. This will keep them from seeing the post, and hopefully prevent you from inadvertently starting a world war.

A former Mizzou classmate clued me in to an even better tip: Some people go so far as to create lists and hide certain updates from those lists. Click on Friends, then click Edit Friends, then click Create List. Name the list by topic, add friends you don’t want to send updates on that topic, then click Create List. Now, when you go to post a status update, when you click on the lock, you can type the name of that list into the hide option.

You can also use lists to avoid sending irrelevant updates to all 999 of your closest friends. You can create lists of family, coworkers, former coworkers, former classmates, and any other list that’s useful to you. Then, if you want to send an update just to your family, type your update, click the lock, select customize, select specific people, and then type the name of the group. Now you can send a message to your whole family and not worry about bothering other people who won’t care or understand the message.

And then you can use those lists to see updates just from those specific groups, so if you ever wonder what your old coworkers from Initech are up to, you can find out really quickly. Just click on Friends, then click that list, and you’ll see all the recent updates from the people on that list.

The upside

Despite the pitfalls, there’s enough upside to make it worthwhile. I’ve questioned it a couple of times, but never for more than a few days.

It is an effective way to keep in touch. One blatant example: Last summer, we had a project at work that required several teams to travel. Those of us who had Facebook accounts knew how the remote teams were doing. Those who didn’t knew very little. It was a lot easier to sign in to Facebook at the end of the day than it was to use our convoluted e-mail system from the road.

I also find it easier to deal with than e-mail. I used to get more e-mail per day than I could possibly read or respond to in 24 hours. With Facebook, people’s expectations are more reasonable. I have a much better handle on what’s going on in people’s lives by spending a few minutes on Facebook than I did plowing through hundreds of e-mail messages.

I’m a whole lot more connected now than I was in 2007. I can trade family pictures and talk effortlessly with my first cousin in Philadelphia, whom I haven’t seen in person in 22 years. I can do the same with my first cousin in Germany, whom I’ve never met at all. I’ve even used it to try to chase down job leads for friends who weren’t on Facebook yet. There’s nothing at all wrong with any of that.

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 2 of 3

This is part 2 in my series of observations about avoiding potential pitfalls in Facebook.

What do your updates say about you?

It’s hard to know who’s watching you, and how your updates could potentially come back to haunt you. If your status updates or photos suggest questionable judgment, it could potentially jeopardize your professional life.

For example, it’s easy to make people wonder if you’re ever sober if every status update talks about going out drinking, and every picture posted looks like it was taken in a bar. That’s not necessarily career-killing–I had a coworker once who seemed to have a hangover every single day and he managed to outlast me at that place–but in these tough times, people lose opportunities over dumber things than that.

Boundaries

I’ve dealt with this before. Odds are, at some point, you’re going to run across old flames. I won’t revisit all of that. The most important thing is to live in the present, and set boundaries.

One of mine found me about 16 months ago. After maybe three days of back-and-forth and being part of her morning routine, I set down some ground rules. That ended the conversation, and she hasn’t contacted me since. Maybe that’s not the perfect ending, but it’s an acceptable one.

Every relationship is different, but it’s not uncommon for current spouses/significant others to be uncomfortable when old flames come into the picture. And depending on how the relationship ended, opening old wounds is a possibility. In my case, it was clear the 1997 she remembered wasn’t or isn’t the same 1997 I remember. Maybe she never knew, or just doesn’t remember anymore, that she messed me up pretty badly.

Ending communication showed she did respect those boundaries. And any reasonable person will. They don’t have to like it. The important thing to remember is that once a relationship is over, and especially once there’s a new relationship in the picture, a different set of rules applies.

And let’s talk about two of those rules. Is it wrong for my wife to not want to have to compete with a predecessor for my attention? No. Is it wrong for me to want to avoid getting hurt again? No.

If they don’t respect those boundaries, un-friend them. Or reject their friend request.

Privacy

It should go without saying, but don’t announce to the world, or even just your 999 closest friends, that the entire family is on vacation and your house is sitting empty. And I shouldn’t know that someone my wife knows received enough money in a lawsuit to buy a house. I shouldn’t know this, but I know that and then some, because she posted the whole story on Facebook.

If you want to talk about how great your vacation is, well, wait until you get back and talk about how great your vacation was. If you come into a windfall, well, those 999 people you barely know probably don’t need to know how much it was or where it came from. Maybe you trust those 999 people, but you don’t know who those 999 people are talking to.

And if a friend of a friend–or someone who just isn’t as good of a friend as you thought–finds out you just came into a lot of money and you just happen to be on vacation right now? You tell me what pops into mind. Maybe that person won’t act on it. But it’s better not to even take the chance. These are tough times, and someone may think they’re more entitled to that windfall than you.

Wasting time

I think Betty White put it best when she said, “[Facebook] sounds like a huge waste of time!” And yes, it can waste as much or as little time as you want it to.

Anymore, I check in every couple of days, usually in the evenings, to see what’s going on. A friend from high school got married last weekend. That’s a big deal, and I’m glad to know about that.

I used to try to set time limits for myself, so I wouldn’t get lost in it. Anymore, it’s usually a few skims, some page scrolls, maybe a couple of minutes to post a response to something, and I’m out.

Some people spend a whole lot more time on it than I do, but it isn’t necessary.

Part 3 of this series will follow tomorrow.

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 1 of 3

A good friend asked me for some thoughts on Facebook this week. Like many people, he’s resistant. But, as he put it, it’s the standard for personal, non-professional communication these days. As a Facebook late adopter, I understand the hesitancy. As someone with a couple of years’ experience, I’ve weathered some storms. So he asked me for my thoughts on its pitfalls and avoiding them.

Arm your system’s defenses

I went something like 16 years without catching a virus, until I caught something earlier this year. My antivirus software minimized the damage, but this was embarrassing. Whether it came from a rogue ad on their site or some rogue app, I don’t know. But if you intend to participate, protect your system from known malware domains. whether at the operating system level, or by using Adblock Plus.

Even if Facebook is completely benevolent (which I doubt), it’s a huge, attractive target for malware authors, and it has a history.

Games

Maybe the games are fun. I don’t know; I stay away from them. I get tired of hearing about casual acquaintances’ game activity, and I really don’t care to annoy all of my casual acquaintances with them. And frankly, before I learned you could hide these games by hovering over the update and clicking the ‘x’, I really wondered about certain people because it looked like they were spending their entire lives playing games.

But there’s an even better solution…

Filtering

Several filters exist: F.B. Purity, Better Facebook, and FFixer are popular ones. I use F.B. Purity and I’m pretty happy with it. It blocks the games and the stupid link-sharing apps, which eliminates at least 50% of the noise. At least now I don’t see waves of “Click here if God ever answered a prayer!” and similar posts that tend to percolate up every so often–and it seems like once one of your friends posts one of those, 30 of them follow.

I don’t know why people see the need to use Facebook apps to say things like that–I could go through my friends list and tell you who would say yes and no to that particular question, probably with greater than 90% accuracy–but it’s not my problem anymore. Every time I sign on to Facebook, all I see is that FB Purity hid 10 superfluous updates. I can see them if I click on something, but I never bother.

Politics and religion

There’s a growing disrespect for differing views in these two arenas. I suspect it’s because today’s popular opinion makers have no respect for differing opinions and encourage their fans to behave similarly, but whatever the reason is, I have less and less interest in participating in it.

My view seems to be a minority view. I have some acquaintances who seem to have plenty of time to post 15 updates every day about these things. You probably already know who you can safely talk about these things with and who’s just going to call you an idiot. (Hint: the more extreme the view, whether left or right, the worse your chances.) Unfortunately I’ve had some conversations on these topics that damaged relationships. A better approach is just to hide the status updates of people who post 15 inflammatory updates per day. Then you can still keep in touch, without being stuck reading a ton of stuff that gets under your skin every day.

And since you probably don’t want to read that kind of stuff, you shouldn’t be one of those kinds of people. While there are things I believe in, I realize it’s counter-productive to post updates about those things multiple times a day. Posting obnoxious links and status updates isn’t going to convert my atheist friends to Christianity. It’s more likely to make them dig in. Posting obnoxious links or parroting obnoxious pundits isn’t going to convert my friends’ political views either. And on the latter, I’m not certain that it’s productive.

If you feel the need to talk about such things, do it in a targeted fashion. Confine it to the people you know you can have productive discussions with. Not all 999 people you know. But I’m getting way ahead of myself–I’ll cover that in part 3, when I talk about lists.

Parts 2 and 3 will follow later in the week.

Tips for running a garage sale

On a forum I frequent, the discussion turned to garage sales, and some people shared some horror stories. As someone who visits a lot of garage sales, I’ve seen the ways people deal with some of the pitfalls. In the interest of encouraging garage sales, I’ll share my tips for running a garage sale.

tips for running a garage sale
Quick: can you spot the common (but very serious) error in this photo of a table at a garage sale? Keep reading and you’ll find the answer. This may be the most valuable of my tips for running a garage sale.

One problem is people showing up at 5 or 6 in the morning wanting to get in early. The best way to prevent this is to be vague about your address. Be specific enough that they can find it, but vague enough that they can’t find it early. What do I mean? Don’t say “2329 Jefferson” in your ad and streetcorner signs. Say “single-family sale, 23xx Jefferson.” Then, when you’re ready to open your sale, put a sign in your front yard and open your garage door. Last of all, have a helper go out and put some signs on nearby major intersections.

The early birds can still show up if they want, but they’ll have no choice but to sit in the car and wait for you, since they won’t even know for sure which house is having the sale. Only the people really, really serious about buying something will, and those are the people you want.

Lowballers are the other problem. I’ll admit, I’ve asked for discounts before when buying large quantities of stuff, but I don’t demand them. I see some people demanding discounts on everything, no matter how low the initial price is. Yes, I know that’s annoying. I’ve actually had people running sales ask me if I’m interested in the same thing they’re getting lowballed on, in hopes of selling it to me instead. Garage sale prices are already pennies on the dollar, but some people insist on squeezing out every last penny.

The best tactic is to lower your prices late in the sale, say, after 10 am. Advertise that prices will be 25% or 50% off at 10 am, and maybe knock something else off at 11 am. When a lowballer tries to play games with you, just say, “no discounts until 10 am.” They can come back then, assuming the item is still there. If they really want it, then they’ll pay your asking price.

Do be realistic about your prices, though. I once went to a sale, picked out 10 items (unmarked) and asked how much. I was expecting $10, maybe $20 at most, based on what I paid at other sales. She asked $60.

What did I do? I went through the pile again. It turned out half of it was stuff I could turn a small profit on at $6 each. Half of it was stuff I couldn’t sell for $6 myself. So I put those back. I reluctantly paid $30 for the other five. I honestly doubt anyone else expressed interest in what I put back. If it ever did sell, I’m sure she didn’t get $30 for it.

If you don’t know how to price something, visit a few sales yourself to get an idea what stuff goes for. Or at least visit your nearest thrift store and see what they charge for the kind of stuff you’ll be selling.

Leaving items unmarked and soliciting an offer encourages lowballers to offer 10 cents for things that ought to be priced a dollar. Or it leads to awkward exchanges like mine, where someone puts most of it back.

Do keep in mind a significant number of people who come to your sale are looking for things to re-sell. They may have a booth at a flea market or antique mall, they may sell on eBay, or something else. You’ll have some bargain hunters and curious neighbors, but most likely the majority will be resellers. Their profit margin isn’t your main concern. But the general rule of reselling is that 3x markup is the minimum that works. If an item sells on eBay for $10, the most you’re going to get from a reseller is about $3. The reason is because eBay is going to take $1.50 in commissions. The government is going to take another $1.50 or so in taxes. So the seller spends $3 to make $3-$4. But of course the seller would rather spend $1, sell for $10, and make $5-$6.

I’ve seen old Marx train cars priced at $50 at garage sales because the seller claimed he saw one just like it go for $100 on eBay. In the cases I’m thinking of, it’s always been a very common car worth no more than $20, so I know the seller was either lying or mistaken. If you think you have something really special, my advice is to attempt to sell it on eBay instead. You’re not going to get eBay prices at a garage sale. Essentially, as a garage sale operator, you’re a wholesaler.

If you don’t want to hassle with eBay, take a name and number from anyone who shows interest.

One tactic I see sometimes (and my family used) is to advertise a sale as a moving sale instead of a yard or garage sale, in order to get better prices. Advertising a moving sale can allow you to get better prices for your highest-end stuff, like furniture or nice electronics or perhaps name-brand clothes in nice condition. But things like used toys and VHS tapes sell for about the same price no matter what you call the sale.

Some people post phone numbers in the ad. Unless the ad runs the same day as the sale, this is a mistake. It’s just asking people to call you and want to see your stuff early. I admit I’ve done it myself. There have been a couple of times that I couldn’t find a sale, the ad had a number, and I called for directions and ended up buying a lot of stuff. But if you don’t want people calling you all hours of the day in advance, it’s probably not worth it. Putting a nearby landmark in your ad is just as effective and saves you the phone calls.

Finally, I’ve seen people take out ads a week or two in advance of the sale. I don’t see the point. Most circuit regulars don’t plan beyond the upcoming Saturday. So placing an ad early just forces you to do a lot of explaining to disappointed people that the sale is next week. The best day to advertise is the Friday before. The day of the sale is often too late, as many people have already made their plans. An ad in Saturday’s newspaper can draw in people who change their plans on Saturday morning, or people who plan spontaneously. But if you’re paying for the ad, Friday is best. If you advertise on Craigslist, run your ad early in the week and refresh it closer to Friday.

Did you catch the mistake in the photo at the top? Arguably there are two, but one of them is worse than the other. Organizing the stuff into logical groups would help it to sell better. The toy cars, the tools, and the electronics ought to all be together, rather than making it look like someone dumped a box of random stuff onto the table.

But the bigger problem is no price tags. The box of miniature light bulbs in the upper right would easily sell for $10 online. Mark it at $3, and it will sell. Unmarked, don’t be surprised if someone offers 10 cents.

And those are my tips for running a garage sale. I hope they help you have a less frustrating, more successful sale.

Running Marx and Lionel trains together

Someone asked (not me specifically) whether it’s possible or desirable to run Marx and Lionel trains as part of the same layout, what the caveats are, and how to do it.

It seems to be a pretty dark secret. The answer is, yes it’s possible, and yes, it might very well be desirable, but it’s possible to run into some pitfalls.

Let’s talk about it.Marx and Lionel competed in the 1950s. While Lionel strove to be a status symbol, Marx had a product for every niche. Anyone could afford a Marx train. And since Marx track and accessories were compatible with Lionel, sometimes they got mixed.

Is it desirable? Sure. Both Marx and Lionel made things the other didn’t. For example, Marx made a nice Missouri Pacific cattle car. Lionel made a Missouri Pacific box car. (The Lionel MoPac car wasn’t as nice as American Flyer’s rendition of the same car though.) And if you’re not a high roller, you can buy Lionel O27 cars (which was Lionel’s cheap stuff) and Marx 3/16 scale O27 cars (which was Marx’s expensive stuff). They’re the same size and look fine together. And both can be cheap. I pay between $5 and $10 apiece for Lionel “Scout” type cars from the late 1950s or 1960s. It’s easy to pay $50 apiece for modern O scale cars.

Lionel and Marx used incompatible coupler designs, but that’s easy enough to fix too. Take your most beat-up Marx car and your most beat-up Lionel car, and drill out the rivet that holds one of the trucks in place on each. Then put a Lionel truck on the Marx car and vice-versa, secured with a nut and bolt. Swap the wheels around if you need to in order for both cars to sit flat. Now you can run Marx and Lionel not only together, but even as part of the same train.

The problem is that a lot of Marx engines–basically everything but the Marx 1829 and the Marx 666 (I’ll just call it the sixty-six from here on out) locomotives had what they call a “fat wheel.” The gears that drive the wheels on most toy trains are in the side of the wheel. On Lionels and the aforementioned Marxes, those gears are smaller than the diameter of the wheel. On all other Marxes, those gears are nearly the size of the wheel.

So what? Well, it’s no big deal if you have a simple loop or figure 8 of track. But if you want your track to have branch lines with switches (also called turnouts), where the train can go off in another direction on a different stretch of track, and you use a Lionel switch, the cheap Marx engines like the 400, 490, and 999 will do crazy things when they hit it. Hopefully they won’t fly too far off the track.

Marx switches are designed for Marx locomotives, of course. The problem is, most Lionel locomotives can’t maintain electrical continuity while they go over a Marx switch. Lionel spaced its electrical contacts differently from Marx. Sometimes momentum will carry the Lionel through the switch and it’ll go on as if nothing happened. But sometimes the momentary loss of power is enough to engage the Lionel sequencer, causing it to either go into neutral (in the case of expensive Lionels) or reverse (in the case of cheap ones).

Flip the switch on the top of a Lionel locomotive to disable the sequencer (also known as an e-unit), and you can run Lionels through Marx switches all day.

You can also modify a Marx switch by inserting some track pins strategically to close down the gap that impedes the Lionels. Simply insert track pins where indicated in the diagram below.

marx1590

The downside to this is that it limits you to O27 track, but that’s not really a downside–you can get wider-diameter O27 track. Use wide diameter track and then your trains will run just as well, or better, than they would on the costlier O31 track.

You can even go outside of O gauge for rolling stock. If you run across a postwar S gauge American Flyer car and like it, it’s possible to adapt it for use with Lionel and Marx. O27 is supposed to be 1:64 scale, just like S gauge is. So if you run across some Flyer cars and the price is right, consider changing its trucks out for Lionel and adding still more variety to your fleet.

Dude! I’m getting a… Packard Bell!

Oh wait. No, I’m thinking of Steve. Although he and I did just get identical Dell Optiplex GX1 P2-450 workstations to use as Web servers. We learned a little bit about them too.
Read more

Another RISC platform for Linux

Vintage workstations. I’ve read two articles this past week about running Linux or another free Unix on vintage hardware.
http://www.debianplanet.org/article.php?sid=605
http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=02/02/19/049208&mode=thread

And while I can certainly appreciate the appeal of running a modern free Unix on a classic workstation from the likes of DEC or Sun or SGI, there’s another class of (nearly) workstation-quality hardware that didn’t get mentioned, and is much easier to come by.

Apple Power Macintoshes.

Don’t laugh. Apple has made some real dogs in the past, yes. But most of their machines are of excellent quality. And most of the appeal of a workstation-class machine also applies to an old Mac: RISC processor, SCSI disk drives, lots of memory slots. And since 7000-series and 9000-series Macs used PCI, you’ve got the advantage of being able to use cheap PC peripherals with them. So if you want to slap in a pair of 10,000-rpm hard drives and a modern SCSI controller, nothing’s stopping you.

There’s always a Mac fanatic out there somewhere willing to pay an exhorbinant amount of money for a six-year-old Mac, so you won’t always find a great deal. Thanks to the release of OS X (which Apple doesn’t support on anything prior to the Power Mac G3, and that includes older machines with G3 upgrade cards), the days of a 120 MHz Mac built in 1996 with a 500-meg HD and 32 megs of RAM selling for $500 are, fortunately, over. Those machines run Linux surprisingly well. Linux of course loves SCSI. And the PPC gives slightly higher performance than the comparable Pentium.

And if you’re lucky, sometimes you can find a Mac dirt-cheap before a Mac fanatic gets to it.

The biggest advantage of using a Mac over a workstation is the wealth of information available online about them. You can visit www.macgurus.com to get mainboard diagrams for virtually every Mac ever made. You can visit www.everymac.com for specs on all of them. And you can visit www.lowendmac.com for comprehensive write-ups on virtually every Mac ever made and learn the pitfalls inherent in them, as well as tips for cheap hardware upgrades to squeeze more speed out of them. I learned on lowendmac.com that adding video memory to a 7200 increases video performance substantially because it doubles the memory bandwidth. And on models like the 7300, 7500, and 7600, you can interleave the memory to gain performance.

Besides being better-built than many Intel-based boxes, another really big advantage of non-x86 hardware (be it PowerPC, Alpha, SPARC, MIPS, or something else) is obscurity. Many of the vulerabilities present in x86 Linux are likely to be present in the non-x86 versions as well. But in the case of buffer overflows, an exploit that would allow a hacker to gain root access on an Intel box will probably just crash the non-x86 box, because the machine language is different. And a would-be hacker may well run into big-endian/little-endian problems as well.

http://homepages.ihug.com.au/~aturner/7200boot.html

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux