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Insert Witty Title of New Desk Post

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Alan wanted pictures of my monitor setup. Here you go. Keep in mind that everything is still dusty and dirty from construction.

When we bought the house, we had a living room that had absolutely silly proportions. Way too long and skinny, and no real way to use all the space. We walled off about a third of it, replaced the carpet with tile in the dining room, kitchen, laundry room, and newly-made room, and moved our office in there.

I’d had a wooden platform in my old office on which I mounted my monitors. This worked great there but wouldn’t work in the new room, where my desk had me sitting with my back in a corner. Monoprice to the rescue! Their single-mount and dual-mount monitor stands are inexpensive, sturdy, and attractive. They also have pretty nice HDMI matrix switches and of course inexpensive cables. Don’t ever, ever pay what Wal-mart is asking for a cable without checking at Monoprice first.

I had two other problems: The tangle of cords needed to support a computer with four monitors was easy to hide under a three-foot-deep corner desk, but here it ended up in a giant mess. Also, the computer itself, with three case fans, a power supply fan, a CPU fan, and two GPU fans, was way too loud. I went to Office Max and bought a double lateral file that matched the rest of our office set. I assembled it normally except that I left the bottom out of the top shelf and reinforced the bottom of the bottom drawer, making essentially a cabinet with one giant drawer. I then cut matching holes on the drawer and the outside of the cabinet, added fan covers to the outside of the cabinet, attached cheap “silent” 120mm fans to the inside of the drawers, and connected those fans via a long cable to the motherboard, allowing me to control the speed (and thus noise level) of the fans via software.

The result is a neat cabinet that reduces the roar of the computer to a quiet hum while containing all the mess, including the network switch and power strip. If you do this, take care to match your intake and exhaust fans to cooperate with those of your PC case instead of working against them. All the sensors in the computer are reporting comfortable temperatures, and the air temperature hovers somewhere in the 80 F to 90 F range, uncomfortable for us but just fine for electronics.

Notice the paper already coming off the front of one of the legs. I would have returned it, but it was the only one they had and I couldn’t be bothered. You get what you pay for, I suppose.

Bredacat does not seem to mind.

Program your own replacement remote key fobs

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

In college, I briefly drove a 2001 Ford Taurus, until I decided that I was working to pay for the car to go to work, so my parents gave the car to my sister.

Sometime during her ownership of the car, her keyfob died. She told me that it wasn’t just the battery in the remote, but the receiver on the car as well. She’d been told by a mechanic to give up on the whole idea and tossed the fob.

When the car was deemed to old to do anything with but scrap, my parents gave it back to me. I put $500 in repairs into it and it became the newest car we owned. My wife drives it but wished she had a remote unlock like a car she had once upon a time.

One day I came across a link on Hack a Day detailing how to program your own key fob. For the Ford, it was “Turn the key from [Off] to [Run] without starting it eight times in ten seconds. Then press any button on the fob you wish to activate. Turn the ignition to [Off] and you’re done.”

I ordered a remote off eBay for $8 and followed the instructions above. I got it right the first time.

I had always figured programming such devices required specialized software and/or hardware. I guess the folks charging $60 per fob are running a racket.

Brilliant.

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I have a guest room that has room for a twin bed and a tiny desk and not much else. Designs like this could make that room actually useful for something.

Knowledge Worth Saving

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

I love videos like these, because you can watch them, tuck away the trick, and not think about it again until years later, when it saves your bacon in a highly specific situation.

Packing while Packing

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Continuing my search for interesting InfoSec demonstrations and lectures, I came across this gem.

Basically, this guy is saying that if you want to keep the goons at the airport from going through/stealing your tech gear, pack a gun in the case with it.

I’ve had good success doing this when flying. Checking a gun means you get to use a REAL non-TSA lock, and they can only open it for searches while you are present.

Deviant Ollam – Packing & The Friendly Skies from Deviant Ollam on Vimeo.

Add A Second Trunk Release Button to Foil Smash-n-Grab Thieves

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I once had the displeasure of watching my coworker receive a phone call from his daughter telling him that her car had been broken into. She had been travelling with three friends in a large city for sightseeing and shopping. On the final morning they had checked out of their hotel room and gone to the local mall for a few hours before it was time to head home. Heeding her dad’s advice about keeping her valuables safe, she had the girls lock their cameras and laptops in the trunk with the luggage instead of leaving them in plain view in the cabin. The cabin was bare of anything remotely valuable when they left.

You can guess what happened. Someone apparently watched them move their bags to the trunk before going into the mall, smashed the driver’s side window, popped the trunk, and helped themselves to the contents. Three laptops, two DSLR cameras, a cell phone, and the luggage of all four girls was gone.

I sometimes store a computer or a firearm in the trunk of my car, so this bothered me greatly. Yes, part of the solution is not to be seen at your destination loading something into your trunk, but that’s not always practical.

I decided to add another button to my trunk release, so that both buttons must be pushed simultaneously in order to pop the trunk.

The concept is simple, and having heard it, you could probably figure out how to make it happen for yourself. Still, here’s pictures from my installation. The pictures are absolutely craptacular, as they were taken with my BlackBerry.

If you’re already into this sort of thing, this project will cost less than $5 and an hour of your time. You’ll need:

  • Two wires long enough to run from your trunk release button to your new button. I like to use pairs from cat5 cable for this sort of work. I picked the brown and brown/white pair. You may vary your color selection if you wish.
  • Button, button, who’s got the button? Any momentary pushbutton will do. I got a red one and a black one at Radio shack, $3 for the pair.
  • Scissors or a knife to strip wire.
  • Electrical tape and/or wire nuts.
  • Solder and soldering iron. Since this is in a car, a battery-operated soldering iron is preferred. You can use a traditional soldering iron with an extension cord, but make sure you’re using a heavy-gauge extension cord.

First, you’ll need to get to the wires behind your trunk release button. On my 1997 Mercury Sable, this is as simple as prying off the plastic cover around the button.

trunk01

You’ll be picking one of the wires, cutting it, and attaching both ends to your long wire. You only need to cut ONE of these wires! ONE! I suggest waiting until you have the wire in place before cutting anything, as there might not be much extra slack in this wire to prevent it from falling back into the body.

trunk02

I decided to mount my extra button with the sunroof controls, which are on the ceiling of the cabin above the rear-view mirror.

trunk03

How you hide your wire depends on your car, but it’s not as hard as you might think. Most cars are packed with flexible trim that can be pulled back to hide a wire. People who install car stereo equipment do this all the time.

trunk04

I was able to make my wire completely invisible to the user. Mission accomplished!

trunk05

Cut ONE of the wires going to the button that came with your car. Strip a half-inch off both ends of this wire that you’ve exposed, strip your new wires, and connect each of your new wires to one end of the factory wire. Twist together and tape. You don’t *have* to solder, but I prefer to make a really good connection so they won’t want to vibrate apart later. Remember that your car gets very warm, and that will have an impact on your electrical tape. This means that you can use the tape to keep metal apart that you don’t want to touch, but don’t use it to keep things physically together if you can avoid it.

trunk06

Even if you don’t solder anywhere else, you’ll need to solder now to connect your wire pair to your new button. This is how I mounted my button. I’ll note that if you get a small enough button, the diameter of it is small enough that you can skip the drill and just drive your hot soldering iron through the plastic to which you desire to mount it. I would never do such a reckless thing, of course.

trunk07

trunk08

Presto. If you press the red button, nothing happens. If you press the trunk release, nothing happens. If you press them both at once, the circuit is closed and the trunk pops open.

Alternately, you could completely remap your trunk release so that, in this case for example, the trunk release does nothing but the red button releases the trunk. I don’t recommend this for two reasons: First, anyone in your car who notices the strange button (kids?) will want to press it, opening your trunk. Second, many cars (like mine) will release the trunk even if you’re in gear and going 75 down the interstate. If If I’m trying to operate my sunroof, for example, I might accidentally press the button. As a second button, that wouldn’t do anything. As the only button, it will release the trunk lid. Bad juju.

Hope this has given you some good ideas. Obviously I can’t be held responsible if you monkey with the electrical system in your car and break it and/or yourself. Proceed with caution.

My Desk

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Flickr gallery here.

Again, thanks to xyankeeworkshop for the plans. I’m enjoying the setup immensely.

desk03

NSLU2 Dedicated IRC Gateway

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

nslu2

Ever since pdb started the channel, I’ve been sucked back into IRC, having been free of its wretched grasp since high school. It took me a while, however, to find a client that I liked. Back in the olden days I had a nagware version of mIRC which worked passably well for me, but that hasn’t been updated or streamlined at all in the intervening years and is starting to look a little dated. XChat which was built as a Linux desktop client but ported to Windows was nice most of the time, but had a few Windows glitches, as well as being mired in controversy because the author, intellectually speaking, is a thieving douchebag.

So I created a virtualized Linux system on my XP server/arcade cabinet machine, and after trying several clients, settled on irssi. This, combined with an SSH server, allows me to access my IRC client from any networked operating system, on any computer, anywhere that I can get net access. It is effortless. It also has the side benefit of keeping logs even when I’m away, which can yield hilarious results.

But running a virtual machine on a computer meant to play arcade games and serve up bittorrent is a pain. What I needed was a dedicated Linux box. What I didn’t need was a full-power computer sucking electricity and pooping heat just so I could run an IRC client.

Enter the NSLU2, a network device originally intended to serve up USB hard drives over the network. With a custom firmware, it can run a full Debian Linux system. At 233mhz with 32MB of RAM, it’s no beast, but for a single-function machine, it’s great. The best part? I measured the power use: 3 watts. Not bad for $50 on eBay and an hour’s work.

It’s *TINY*. The picture above seems to make it appear larger than it is. Maybe this will give you a better perspective of how tiny it is:

monitorpreview

That’s it, to the left of the monitors. I’ll blog about my monitor setup soon… I have some cables coming in this week that should allow me to tidy the whole arrangement up and make it semi-permenant.

In the mean time, if you want to get a similar box going, I can offer you some tips to make things easier. Just give me a buzz at whitebread@whitebreadonpatrol.com, or skype me at Whitebread_On_Patrol.

On Gear Whoring

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Les Jones pointed to a great rant from a former Gizmodo editor about how stupid people get over gadget lust.

Stop buying this crap. Just stop it. You don’t need it. Wait a year until the reviews come out and the other suckers too addicted to having the very latest and greatest buy it, put up a review, and have moved on to something else. Stop buying broken products and then shrugging your shoulders when it doesn’t do what it is supposed to. Stop buying products that serve any other master than you. Use older stuff that works. Make it yourself. Only buy new stuff from companies that have proven themselves good servants of their customers in the past. Complaining online about this stuff helps, but really, just stop buying it.

You want to know the punchline? The average Joe that makes up the market is smarter than you saps. The market-at-large waits until a clear leader emerges, then takes a modest plunge. You may think you’re making up the “bleeding edge” of “gadget pimpatude” but you’re really just a loose confederation of marks the consumer electronics industry uses as free market research and easy money. “Give me the latest version,” you coo, hiking up your skirt another inch over your exposed wallet. “Point Oh One upgrades make me so hot.”

Reading the whole thing would not be a waste of your time, especially if you can look on your shelf and see more than a couple of items that you just HAD to have when you discovered them, but now no longer use.

I used to have Gizmodo and several other tech sites in my RSS reader. I read them every day (often 50+ posts per day) under the guise of “staying current” with technology. What I was really doing was filling my head with gadget lust for things that I didn’t need. I would see some (actually pretty nifty) gadget that’s just come out, and get to thinking about it. The more I thought about it, the less the thoughts resembled “hey, cool!” and the more they started to sound like “I can probably afford to buy this next month.”

I browsed to Slickdeals.net every morning, and checked the “Hot Deals” forums. Often I would find truly stupendous deals on something, but even if I got it for 20% of retail and got some use out of it, it was still an item that I could have gone without.

In both cases I was willfully creating wants and desires in my mind that, far from helping me be “productive and connected”, caused me to be “broke and never satisfied”. I was exactly where the sales people wanted me.

I removed the gadget sites from my reader and the “deals” bookmarks from my web browser. I still browse for gadgets, but it’s usually prefaced by some need for functionality. The difference between what I’m doing now and what I’m doing before is that the origin of the “need” is from my daily living (“Boy, sure do wish I could x. I wonder if there is a product that will let me do that. Better yet, maybe there’s software or a cheap upgade that will enable what I’ve already got to fill the need.”) instead of from essentially a marketing syndication (Wow! New Shiny Thing 3.2 does y! I could use that!).

Les said:

I remember reading one of those futurist authors years ago predicing the accelerating surge of electronics. One of his conclusions was that technology would bring a lot of expensive temptations.

Absolutely spot-on. You’d be surprised how much brainpower you free up when you cease to be a gear whore. Not to mention the positive effects on your budget.

Multpile-Add Attachments

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Gmail now supports it.

About frickin’ time. Gmail is awesome, and we’ve transitioned here at work from mostly Outlook Express to Google for Your Domain. This makes a lot of administrative stuff a lot easier for me, especially backups. But Gmail still has a few things I wish could be tweaked, and for a long time efficiently adding multiple attachments was one of them.

Most weeks I have two or three emails that require me to send a dozen PDFs to one of my bosses. I know that the correct answer is “just use zip files” but one doesn’t do that after the boss complains the first time.

For a few months I’d been using the gAttach Windows app to let me add as many files to a draft as I like directly from the Windows shell, but that was a kludge and the app stopped working about 6 weeks ago. I’ve been clicking three times for every attachment. Madness.

Now, all I have to do is click “browse”, drag-select the files I want to go, and click OK. Done.

Kudos, Google. Now let me attach .exe files to my emails!

The Silence Plug

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting in class, or in church, or at a lecture, or in a library, and you decide that you want to play Nethack take some notes, so you whip out your netbook/laptop/17″ monstrocity and boot it up. It’s starting up just fine when suddenly, [Windows Startup Sound]! Oh, noes!

I got tired of this happening, and since most manufacturers stopped putting a hardware volume control on their machines a long time ago, I figured I couldn’t be alone. Here’s how I fixed my problem.

If you have a pair of old/broken/crappy headphones, then you can use them for this. If you don’t, I recommend heading to a dollar store. I stopped into the local Dollar Tree on my lunch break, and got:

silenceplug1

If you’re into homebrew electronics and your supply of common parts is looking thin, the dollar store is a great resource. On the right is a $1 FM radio, purchased primarily for the undoubtedly craptacular headphones included therein. I also picked up the alarm hoping for a good reed switch for another project.

silenceplug2

Get scissors or a pair of pliars with a wire-cutter. My Leatherman did the job just fine. Cut as much of the “soft” cord off as you can. There’s a hard metal/plastic housing holding the plug, so you can’t cut that, but you wouldn’t want to cut it anyway, since it gives you a handle of sorts for your Silence Plug.

silenceplug3

You should end up with something like this. Here it is plugged into my Acer Aspire One:

silenceplug4

This is much better than some other hacks I’ve seen involving installation of a hardware switch into the laptop. This requires no hardware modification, is readily usable on other laptops, and gives you a ready visual/tactile confirmation that you will NOT be getting any sound from the laptop.

Peace of mind and freedom from embarrassment? I’d buy that for a dollar!

Also, you get a free crappy FM radio!

silenceplug5

Let’s see, there’s three good momentary pushbuttons, a pot, two LED’s, a headphone jack, and more! Into the parts bin it goes.

Unfortunately, the reed switch I was hoping to get from the alarm wasn’t an actual component, but rather two pieces of metal placed close to each other on a circuit board. You can see it here at the bottom of the board:

silenceplug6

No good for a tinkerer, and not nearly reliable enough to use as part of your safety plan. Don’t rely on dollar store purchases for your personal safety!