Saturday, April 30, 2011

TracFone $7 a month

There are some individuals that don’t use a cell phone much.  I was paying for an extra phone on my ATT plan so my folks could have a phone for emergencies and an occasional call.  Adding a phone requires a family plan and then the BS fees and the end result is that $10 phone really costs more like $30 a month.  I discovered Tracfone a couple of years ago and decided to try it.  I bought a very simple LG phone at Target for about $20. Phones today start at $10. A 60 minute 90 day card was $20.  Every 90 days you must ‘charge’ the plan with another $20 or you lose whatever minutes you did not use.  The Tracfones also show you your remaining minutes and days on the cell phone main screen. 

The TracFone has turned out to be a huge success for anyone that does not chat on the phone all day.  I get an email 10 days prior to the expiration date to ‘re-up’ the phone.  It’s a simple process of logging into your account and selecting a service plan.  The awesome part is the unused minutes rollover.  You can also buy a double your minutes service for a onetime fee of $20.  Another great feature is no contracts.  If you break or lose your phone, run over to a Tracfone dealer like Target or Walmart and buy another $10 phone and you are set.  It is unbelievable how many people that don’t use their phone very much are paying $40 a month with Verizon or ATT.  And we all know that $40 plan is much more after the BS charges they tack on.   With TracFone they only charge sales tax.  So it costs me about $7 a month.   The coverage is great also. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nippon Labs Internal Card Reader

I have had really bad luck selecting internal card readers over the years. I use a SLR camera that still uses the CF type of memory card.  The internal card readers that I have used over the years require a precision hand when inserting the card if you don’t want bent pins.  My Rosewill reader finally decided to have a mind of it’s own and was so flaky I never knew when it was going to work.  It would keep telling Windows it was there and then not there.  It recently went into a loop and the dinging noise from Windows seeing and not seeing the reader drove me crazy and I finally sent the reader to the trash bin.

I read all the reviews for my next card reader.  I was not going to get another Rosewill product.  I went with a company called Nippon Labs.  Their card reader is the first where I don’t need to insert my CF card and pretend I am doing heart surgery.  The SD and CF slots fit the memory cards perfectly.  The one I selected also has an eSATA and USB port.  They even include the SATA cable.  The card reader connects to any onboard USB header.  Most M/B’s have several of these and installation is easy.  This reader goes for about $20.


Monday, April 25, 2011

AppShopper - A better way to shop for apps on the iPad


I was wondering how folks knew what apps were on sale in the Apple App store.  There is an app for it of course!  It’s called AppShopper.  I really like this app, it can save you money or make you spend more money because there are many sales in the App store.   AppShopper is simple to use, it has filters to narrow down what type of app you are looking for.  You can also just set a filter for what apps have price changes.  I found several good deals this past weekend using it.  I highly recommend installing this app since it’s free, you can and will save money on future app purchases. 

AppShopper also has a web site to browse for apps.    


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pacman for iPad from Namco

Pacman was on sale this weekend so I decided to try it even though the reviews were not great.  It turns out the game is very good, the few that left negative comments did not discover the hidden trick to control the Pacman.  For some reason Namco decided to make this a left handed game.  As it turns out you don’t have to touch the joystick control in the lower left, you can touch anywhere on the screen to play the game.  With that tip this game is a nice retro blast to play.  The graphics are authentic as are the sound effects.  Anybody who has enjoyed PacMan in the arcade room will be more than happy with this release for the iPad.  I tested this on an iPad 2 and there were no slowdowns or sluggish play.  The game is over priced at $4, but for $2 bucks it’s an ok deal. 


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Antec KUHLER Cooling for Sandy Bridge

I selected the Core i7-2600 chip for my new Sandy Bridge system.  I have grown to hate the cooling solutions Intel provides with their CPU’s.  Intel uses a small fan which results in high RPM’s which are very noisy.  If you select a larger fan like a 120mm you can run the fan at a much lower RPM which will greatly reduce the noise.  There are some really crazy looking coolers available these days.  I selected the Antec KUHLER Flow because it won’t block your memory slots.  Many of the larger coolers today require removing them to gain access to the memory slots which is ridiculous. 

The problem with most of these aftermarket coolers is installation.  Many require you to remove your motherboard from the case to install a back plate on the underside of the motherboard to help support their weight.  If you are building a new system it’s no big deal since you already have the M/B out.  The other issue is these coolers are designed to fit a wide variety of Intel or AMD CPU’s and the amount of extra hardware you get can be a bit intimidating.

Wrong Orientation
 A Sandy Bridge chip is considered a socket 1155 and the Antec mounting hardware is not updated to state that a 1155 is the exact same size as a 1156 socket.  The brackets that go on the underside of the motherboard can go one of two ways, and it had me stumped for a few minutes.  The hardware is a square so they fit either way and I selected the wrong way which caused the brackets to sit on top of some solder joints that are not flush with the M/B.  Once I tried the brackets in the other direction all was good.  Pictures are included with the wrong and correct orientations.

Correct Orientation
 A warning this cooler is tall!  I used a Cooler Master Elite 330 case and it just sit with a 1/16” to spare.  While building the system I was convinced I made an error buying this case / cooler combination.  Luckily it all fit perfectly.  While mounting the cooler to the backside bracket you need a special wrench that Antec includes.  The cooler blocks two of the four screws to hold it down, so a screwdriver cannot be used.  It will be impossible to remove this cooler once it’s installed in the case.  You will have to take the M/B out.  


Triple AAA battery for reference to size
Special Wrench to fasten cooler
Note the clearance from the case side!

Friday, April 22, 2011

ObiTalk with Google Voice

I currently use a VOIP provider for my home phone service.  VOIP is a modern way to use the Internet to make and receive phone calls.  Vonage is probably the most well known VOIP provider.  My current VOIP provider is Voice Pulse and I pay $17 a month with taxes for 200 LD minutes and unlimited locals.  It’s ok but the service has gone downhill these past six months which forced me to reevaluate VOIP service providers. 
Let’s talk Google Voice.  I have been using Google Voice for about two years now.  It’s an interesting service.  All USA calls are free with no hidden fees.  But until recently you still needed a phone company to use Google Voice.  What Google Voice does is call you for outbound calls you make.  You login into the Google Voice web page and tell it who you want to call.  It then calls your land line (or cell) and then connects you to your party.  It’s very slick and for $0 how can ask for more?   Well I want to get rid of that $17 VOIP charge every month from my current provider.  And that’s where ObiTalk comes in. 

Obitalk is a free service that only requires you to buy their hardware.  The hardware is $44 and this little box connects to your internet connection and land lines analog phones.  You then sign up for a free ObiTalk account and register your Obi100 which does not take more than 2 minutes to configure.  You need a Google Talk account (also free) setup prior to setting up an ObiTalk account. Once complete you don’t pay ANY fees to make or receive USA calls.  If you need to call international, Google has some great pricing averaging .02c a minute for many countries. 

If you’re a current VOIP user you should have zero issues setting up ObiTalk.  If you are currently using a traditional Ma Bell service there is some learning involved.  You need to disconnect the wires coming into your house that connects you to the traditional copper service.  Once they are disconnected, you can plug your Obi100 device into any phone plug in your home to get all your phones connected. 

There are some limitations.  First off you lose your home phone number.  Google Talk does not currently support porting land line phone numbers into their service.  When you sign up for a Google Talk account they will assign you a new local number for free.  Next Google does not support Caller-ID name.  You will only see the phone number of the person calling you. 

Google Talk has some very nice features you would normally not see using a traditional Ma Bell provider.  You can setup filters to push calls right to voice mail.  You can also take those annoying calls about credit card consolidation and just route them to the black hole.  Google Talk can even ring multiple phone numbers like your cell phone, land line and work.  And having a phone number from Google means you don’t need to pay for expensive texting on your cell phone, just use their service, it’s free.  You also get voice mail with lots of cool features like transcribing.  New voice mails can send email or text alerts to your cell phone.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Asus P8H67-M EVO Sandy Bridge Mother Board

It was time to retire my old PC and move it on down the line to become my Linux server.  I have been converting more videos lately and was tired at staring at Handbrake wondering why it takes so long.  I usually buy a new PC every 3-4 years.  And when I do it’s a learning curve because as most know Intel loves to change things so nothing is compatible forcing you to pretty much buy everything new.

My goal was a motherboard with onboard video.  I don’t game much anymore and I didn’t feel it was necessary to buy a P67 M/B where you provide your own video card from Nvidia or ATI.  The H67 M/B’s have the new onboard 3D video using the latest Intel graphics which is more than acceptable for a non-hardcore gamer.  A Sandy Bridge system uses a socket 1155 which is the 2nd generation iCore chips from Intel.  My 2nd goal was a M/B with USB 3.0.  I feel this will be the standard sooner or later.  I doubt the Thunderbolt tech that Intel and Apple announced a few weeks ago is going to become main stream.  It’s incompatible with everything which is an Apple trademark!

I also wanted the usual ports like eSata, Firewire, onboard audio with SP/Dif (TOS Link).  This board will have a complete set of onboard interfaces so you don’t need any cards.  The M/B also came with a total of 6 SATA ports where two have the 6GB transfer rates.  Standard SATA uses 3GB transfer rates.  Asus includes two 6GB SATA cables.  The M/B has 4 USB 2.0 ports out the back and with the included dongle you get an additional 2 ports and 1 eSata port. There are 8 internal USB ports.  I opted to use the additional USB headers inside the M/B and bought a dongle that has 4 USB 2.0 ports.  This way I can avoid using a USB hub.  The dongle was not cheap, $14. 

For video Intel gives you all the choices, VGA, DVI, HDMI and Display Port.  That’s some nice options there.  The amazing part is they fit all of this on a MicroATX size M/B.  A MicroATX M/B will fit in a standard case/midtower or many other ATX cases.  So don’t be worried that you must use a micro case. 

Many of the newer motherboards now include EFI BIOS.  The new BIOS have a Windows look and feel interface.  The ASUS manual states you can update the BIOS without booting into an OS like Windows or DOS.  They also claim you can recover from a bad BIOS update using a USB Flash drive.  What I did discover is the BIOS can see your hard drives and it includes a basic file manager to locate the BIOS firmware.   WOW!

Asus did something very small but long overdue.  Anyone who has built systems in the past knows it’s a bit of a hassle hooking up the power switch, speaker, reset and LED lights to the M/B.  Asus includes a header (Q-Connector) where all the wires go on the header.  And then the header simply plugs into the M/B.  Finally!

This M/B has tons of features which I will cover down the road after I get more experience with the board.  

Q Connector
A nice selection of interfaces
EFI Bios screen

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Make your own iPad 2 smart cover

I was watching someone’s video where he just plunked down $50 for an iPad 2 aftermarket case that would turn on or off the iPad 2 when you open or close the case cover.  I knew that Apple was using magnets and I decided to take my cheapo $16 Ebay case and modify it for the same feature.  All you need is an earth magnet, glue, tape and a knife.  I used a 1mm x 12mm round magnet.  I am sure you could use a smaller diameter magnet but I had nothing smaller that was thin.  The thinner the better so it does not stick up out of the case.

The first thing you need to do is take your magnet and find a location on the iPad 2 where it triggers the on/off switch. The approximate location is 3” down the top right side of your iPad 2.  Once you find the spot, don’t move the magnet, take a piece of scotch tape rolled in a loop and put it on the magnet.  Next close your case lid so the case will stick to the tape.  Now carefully lift your case lid with the magnet stuck to it and mark off the spot with a pencil.  Then use a knife and cut a square out.  Make the cut in such a way that it’s a flap so you can cover the magnet with the material from your case.  Gouge out some of the material in your case so the magnet will recess inside the case so there is no bump.  I used a screw driver.  Once you are done place the magnet in your cutout and just for testing put a piece of tape over the area and test your new magnetic switch.  Once your happy glue your magnet in place.  I used a glue called Goop which is available at most hardware stores like Home Depot. 

Now you could also go one step further and make several cutouts and make a lid that sticks to the iPad. 

A 20 pack of 10mm x 1mm magnets is under $3 on Ebay or Deal Extreme including shipping.  Earth magnets are lots of fun and have many uses.  I have a draw full of magnets for different projects.  I use them often on radio controlled airplanes to hold down canopies and hatches. 


Saturday, April 16, 2011

iPad 2 bargain charger and cables

Apple like most companies makes a ton of profit on accessories.  I like having an additional charger that I leave in my carry bag because I am too lazy to unplug the charger from under my table when I take my iPad with me.  I also like leaving an extra sync/charger cable in my bag which is helpful for iPads, iPhones and iPods since they all use the same cable.  If you were to go the Apple route you are looking at $50 for a charger and cable!  Luckily we have Ebay which is an awesome place to find generic chargers and cables for any gizmo today. 

When searching for an iPad charger it’s important to make sure the charger clearly states 10 watts (or 2.1 amps).  The charger that comes with an iPhone is not 10 watts.  They are easily found and many are in the USA for fast shipping.  The one I got is nicely packaged in a retail box.  The blue LED glow light is a nice touch and it’s not too bright, it won’t resemble a lighthouse in the evening!

Next is the Apple sync/charger cable.  These cables are all the same across the iPad, iPhone and iPod lines.  Apple gets $20 for a cable!  The standard cable is also only 3 feet long.  I needed a longer cable for easier reach and I found quantity four 6 foot cables for $9 total with free shipping in the USA. 


FTP is 40 years old today

This just amazes me to realize that FTP (file transfer protocol) is 40 years old.  That is some accomplishment to have a piece of software live on for 40 years and is still used in volume every day to transfer files around the Internet.  A MIT student named Abhay Bushan wrote the original FTP specification.  Here is the link to the RFC114 spec.

Friday, April 15, 2011

iPad 2 sleeve for $1.58


This was more a less a curiosity to see how and what you get from Hong Kong for $1.58 with shipping!  I do a good amount of Hong Kong orders these days for RC gear because the pricing and quality is amazing these days.  How can someone ship a product for this price?  It arrived 22 days after I ordered it.  The funny part is my friend Eric ordered the same product on the same day and got his a week earlier.  But that’s a good thing because the word PATIENCE for Eric is a four letter word! 

The sleeve comes in three colors – red, blue or black.  It’s well stitched.  It’s not a very heavy material but it’s going to do the job of preventing scratches.  If you carry your iPad 2 in a backpack or briefcase this sleeve will do the job.  The Ebay description for the sleeve was Black 9.7" inch laptop sleeve case bag for Apple iPad”.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

iPad 2 Case

I get a bit frustrated when I see iPad 2 cases going for well over $50 bucks.  Many go even higher.  It’s just a case!  I like Ebay, lots of variety and cheap solutions coming directly from Hong Kong.  I was not too thrilled seeing basically the same thing from everyone where the case acts as a border and blocks the iPad’s edge.  I also was not looking for something to just protect the back like many skins do.  This case protects both sides.

This case is somewhat like a skin but it has a cover.  It’s some sort of leather that has a simulated carbon look.  The case also acts as a stand but I don’t see myself using that feature.  I just wanted something to protect the iPad from day to day use.  All the ports are well accessible with this case, nothing is blocked.  This case also does not add much bulk to the iPad 2, it's still thin and light.  For around $16 bucks it’s a decent deal.

One negative is the case does smell.  I have been reading on the forums that many of these cases have a stink.  This one is no exception.  I’m sure a few days in the outdoors will fix the issue.  Also the case arrived very quickly from Hong Kong.  It took under two weeks to arrive.

Below are some photos and a video I made.


  

Friday, April 8, 2011

Google's saga continues with sidebar changes

Google has decided to change the sidebar again.  The Stylish code I posted in my previous blog no longer works.  Here is the latest Stylish code to get rid of the sidebar and menus on the top of iGoogle. 

@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

@-moz-document domain("www.google.com") {

#gb{display:none}
#nhdrwrap{height:0px;overflow:hidden}

#full_nav.section,.leftborder {
display:none;

#col1_contents{display:none}

}
}

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Atari Greatest Hits for iPad

Atari, a very well known company from the early days of computer gaming (1972) has released a retro gaming app for Apple’s iPhone and iPad.  The iPad app is where this really shines.  They did a very nice job designing the interface.  I have played a few other retro games on the iPad and developers didn’t do a good job thinking out the interface.  The folks from Atari have changed all that.  I can remember the days of playing games on the Atari 2600 with my friends in high school.  Of course these games today don’t look flashy and in most cases are downright crude by comparison but the game play is still alive and loads of fun.

The app is free but the catch here is you only get Pong.  You need to buy game packs which are .99c or you can you buy all the 99 games for $15.  

I made video showing Asteroids and Missile Command


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Google’s Sidebar

StylishGoogle has a free service called iGoogle which is a custom home page you can design with your own widgets.  Widgets can be news feeds, stocks,  games, weather, social and many other categories.  It’s a great home page where you have what you want.  Around two years ago Google made a design change to iGoogle which was a major boneheaded idea.  They added this silly sidebar to the left side of the page which wastes a lot of valuable screen space.  Instead of using a typical menu bar going horizontally they chose to go vertical.  So what you get is a very small menu with lots of white space down the left side of the screen.  Users blasted Google on many discussion forums and their stubbornness is only rivaled by Steve Jobs when it comes to admitting they screwed up. 

Luckily some java talented programmers came to the rescue to get rid of the sidebar.  A popular plugin for Firefox is called iGoogle Tab Remover which until recently worked great.  Google made more changes this past month which broke all the javascripts which helped rid us of that stupid iGoogle sidebar from our screens.

You may not have the problem yet, because Google rolls these changes out very slowly. When you finally get the problem you can install an addon called Stylish for Firefox which allows you to change the style of any website.  There are tons of scripts out there for Stylish to change the way many sites look. A script has been developed for the latest iGoogle sidebar and it works great!

You need to install Stylish and then plug this code into Stylish:
(FYI you may need to change the moz-document line in bold to match how you load your google page)

@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

@-moz-document url-prefix("http://www.google.com/ig") {


#gb{display:none}

#nhdrwrap{height:100px;overflow:hidden}

#gsea{display:none}

.gsealog{display:none}
.gseaopt{display:none}
#btnG{display:none}
#btnI{display:none}
.G-JK{display:none}
.G-LR{display:none}

}

*** 04/08/2011  (use this script now, Google changed it again!)
@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

@-moz-document domain("google.com") {

#gb{display:none}
#nhdrwrap{height:0px;overflow:hidden}

#full_nav.section,.leftborder {
display:none;

#col1_contents{display:none}

}
}


And here are the results, screen grab on the left is with all the wasted space for that silly tab location and to the right is with Stylish change.
 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Google Reader and Atomic Browser


Atomic supports bookmarklets.  Google has a bookmarklet to post links to your feed.  Create a new bookmark and paste the below javascript in the URL field.  Then visit a site, select the bookmark and a popup dialog box will appear where you can enter notes and tags.  It’s very simple, the hardest part is pasting the javascript into the bookmark field.  I emailed myself the code and copied from gmail to the clipboard.