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Cut the cable

2013-01-21 , , , Comment

It’s been sixty days without cable television and so far no one in the house misses it. The TiVo had been recording a blank signal for a week after the last firmware update went out to the cable decoders so I knew it was time to cut the cord. As a family we just don’t watch, preferring to spend our time reading or fiddling with our portable devices. Netflix and Amazon Prime on the Roku are sufficient video entertainment.

It’s quite a savings. We didn’t have anything extravagant— expanded digital TV, two decoders, phone over cable, and internet service— but the bill was slowly creeping upward until it broke $200 per month when the provider expired the last discount and began charging a rental fee for their cable modem. New customers pay $99 and their customer service was not helpful. Enough. I set up a pay-as-you-go account with voip.ms and ported my existing number during a promotion for $10, so it runs me $10-$12 a month for usage including e911, CallerID, and a second DID. I replaced their modem with one I purchased and bumped the internet service up a tier and my monthly for internet is $55. I might spring for a HDTV antenna and ATSC receiver (my old LCD flat panel is strictly a monitor, no tuner) so I can get local channels but that’s not urgent.

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Switching to VoIP with the OBi100

2012-07-15 , , , Comment

We’ve had telephone service through the local cable company for the past four years in a digital tv-phone-internet package. The “digital voice” service from Time Warner is voice-over-DOCIS but otherwise unexceptional and runs on the same cable network as the TV and internet services. We’ve seen our monthly price of the package climbing up and annual offers to new customers for the same package sliding down and received very little satisfaction from customer service. The whole bundle costs too much for the value we get. Cutting cable is a topic for the future, but I think I can do better for our very modest home phone usage.

I bought an Obihai OBi100 VoIP device. A colleague raved about how great his was and I found it selling new for less than $50 with tax and shipping. The first thing that struck me was how tiny it is, pictured here with a pack of gum and a pen for comparison:
OBI100 size
The device is about the size of a deck of playing cards, but a bit thicker. The second thing to know is that once it picks up an IP address with DHCP, the web-based interface offers both a “wizard” guided setup and a do-it-yourself mode where you input the configuration. I spent an hour reading the PDF documentation and forums on the vendor site, fiddling with Google two-step authentication, setting QoS on my router, and flashing the device with the most recent firmware before setting it up. The “wizard” is, at least for me, easier and I had the device working perfectly inbound and outbound as line #2 on my desk phone with Google Voice in five minutes.

My next step is to select a SIP provider and configure it as a second service.

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Comments on Android on HP Touchpad

2012-07-14 , , , Comments

It’s been months since I modded my HP Touchpad with Cyanogenmod. I’m not going to get into how to do it because there are fairly adequate guides. I’m now running a mid-June official CM9 nightly build. The touchpad is a nice Android tablet (read that “games”) and a great e-reader (kindle & nook apps) after setting the DPI to the native 132 with DPI Changer. The wireless behaves itself, battery life is acceptable, and other than the camera and app store it mostly works. The camera is only supported by a binary blob in an old kernel unless HP makes a code drop, so may never work. The Google app store, a.k.a. Google Play, is annoying in that it checks the DPI and make and model of the unit when it is first run but never again after that and disables updates on many existing apps. Setting a few values (youtube example on CM7) in the build.prop then clearing the app cache in system settings, clearing the /cache partition, and rebooting with the default DPI fixes it. I used


 ro.product.brand=samsung
 ro.product.model=GT-I9100
 ro.product.name=GT-I9100
 ro.product.device=GT-I9100

which gives better results than the usual recommendation of faking a SGH-T989. After updates, I switch the DPI back to 132.

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Writing a good screed, U.S. edition

2012-07-04 , , , Comment

In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to offer some suggestions for writing a good political screed:

  • Reference one or more of the founding fathers
  • Describe a false dilemma, register everything in black or white.
  • Invoke the Constitution without being specific
  • Refer to the Articles of Confederation, Federalist Papers, or the private writings of the founders.
  • Misrepresent 18th & 19th C. thinking. Opportunities exist in misunderstanding Natural Rights, Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, the Enlightenment, Objective Idealism, Romanticism. Get creative here.
  • Make a inappropriate reference to the Separation of Powers.
  • Make an appeal to Anti-Federalism, ex. States Rights
  • Claim an immediate threat to a politically powerful but diffuse group: small business, seniors, the wealthy, etc.
  • Warn of an existential threat to the nation:
    • external threats might include Europeans, China, brown-skinned people, trade imbalances, or Communism
    • popular internal threats are debt, minorities, Socialism, Liberalism, and moral hazard
  • Engage in one or both of Naturalistic and Moralistic fallacies.
  • Include numbers without scale, history, or comparison taken from unnamed sources.
  • Reach a false conclusion (or none at all).

Following these hints will all but guarantee that your posts to your favorite social media sites will grab attention. Have a good time!

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Odd scam email from moredigital.com

2012-06-27 , , , Comment

Received an odd email reads like some kind of link scam. That it came through the forwarder my domain registrar provides me for my DNS contacts is suspicious:

Hi Ross,

We recently contacted you regarding advertising for one of our clients.

We pay an annual fee to you as soon as the advert is live. It is a straightforward process and we work with you to make sure we fit naturally with your site. Please let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you more details.

Would you be interested in selling us a simple text based advertisement on your website Lonsteins.com?

Best regards,
xxxxxx xxxxx
xxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxxx.com

==============================================
This e-mail message is strictly confidential. It is intended solely for the person or organisation to whom it is addressed and contains confidential or privileged information. If you have received it in error, please notify ####@###########.com immediately and destroy this e-mail and any attachments. You must not disclose, copy, distribute or take any action in reliance on this e-mail or any attachments. Views or opinions presented in this e-mail are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of More Digital.

More Digital does not accept liability for any data corruption, interception, unauthorised amendment, viruses and delays or the consequences thereof relating to this or any other email. Any e-mail or attachment is opened at your own risk.

To help protect you, this email (ID-##########) was scanned for viruses by Norton AntiVirus.

Weird. Do a google search, it’s not a great reputation. Do they really get anyone to bite on these things?

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Forge-welding flux recipes

2012-06-24 , , , Comment

I’m keeping track of flux recipes used by blacksmiths for forge-welding as I run across them. The flux reduces oxidation and lowers the melting point of any slag or scale and helps to carry it away. There are two schools of thought: borax and no borax. Fortunately, the MSDS for commercial fluxes is available.

  • Borax-based
    • Borax, Sodium tetraborate decahydrate (Na2[B4O5(OH)4]·8H2O), sold as Dial Corp 20-Mule Team Borax. Some report better results after baking it to remove the water, producing Anhydrous Borax.
    • Iron Mountain Forge Welding Flux. Reportedly anhydrous borax and iron powder. No MSDS, no proportions. The third party videos of its use are convincing.
    • Folk recipe #1: 3 parts Borax, 1 parts Sal Ammoniac (NH4Cl) available from hardware stores and ground.
    • Folk recipe #2: 2 parts Borax, 1/4 to 1 part Boric Acid. Some include 1 part Black Iron Oxide (Fe3O4) or chips from a bandsaw or lathe. This sounds like a homemade version of the Iron Mountain product.
    • Folk recipe #3: 3 parts Borax, 1 part Sal Ammoniac, 1 part metallurgical grade calcium fluoride powder (CaF2, aka Fluorite or Fluorspar). Used for Damascus steel. (Looks like reagent quality in small quantities sells for $2.00/g so I’m not going to try this one soon…)
    • James Hrisoulas uses: 5 parts anhydrous borax, 2 parts powdered boric acid, 1 part powdered iron oxide, 1/2 part fluorspar, 1/4 part sal ammoniac.
  • Boric Acid-based
    • Boric acid, sold as Copper Brite Roach Prufe (98%), Pic Boric Acid Roach Killer (99%)
    • Superior Flux & Mfg. products, aka Anti-Borax, Cherry Weld, EZ-Weld, etc. Composition varies but the MSDS reads:
      • Boric Acid 8-13%
      • Iron Oxides (FeO, Fe2O3, Fe3O4) 45-55%
      • Steel Chips 35-45%
  • Neither

    Interestingly, there are remarks on forums about using clean, white sand and ordinary table salt in lieu of flux. This makes me think they rely on a mechanical action instead of a chemical one.

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