Sunday, January 31, 2016

Handling Too Bright LEDs

Do you have any devices with LEDs that are annoyingly bright?  I have a wifi access point on a stand below a television in my bedroom.  It’s the perfect spot for the device.  And if I wanted a night light it would do double duty as such.  The thing is, I don’t want a night light.  :-(

After looking for settings that would allow me to dim the light I thought about putting a piece of tape to cover it.  Unfortunately, that would deface an otherwise very clean looking piece of hardware and, more importantly, the light serves a useful function as it indicates the status of the unit.

One of my tech-savvy children said he had seen an ad for light dimming covers offered at  I wasn’t sure if the product would be any better than just applying tape over the light but took a chance anyways.

I chose a set of covers colored to match the face of the offending device.  I found that just one didn’t cut the light enough, but applying several of them on top of each other allowed me to dim the light of the LED to exactly the level I wanted.  Now the light is still visible, but it is much dimmer and doesn’t irritate me at all at night.  The face of the device looks as if there’s nothing there and if I want to remove the covers, they peel off easily and don’t seem to leave any residue.

Neat.  :-)

Friday, January 29, 2016

What To Do With An Old iMac

My last post was about something that we all deal with, this one, well, it's kind of arcane.  That's the way this blog is going to be.

Our old iMac couldn't keep up anymore.  It had served us well since 2009 but now it cried out for more memory, a faster disk (time for an SSD) and perhaps a larger monitor.  As lovely as the iMac is, it's really not made to upgrade.  Yeah, I suppose we could have added more memory, but that wouldn't have addressed the other issues.  So we bought a new iMac.  It's better in every way.

What to do with the old machine?  Well, there's a huge supply of used Apple gear out there.  If I was lucky, the computer would have fetched $100 on eBay.  I really didn't want to part with that machine for that amount.

I decided to try my hand at redeploying the iMac as a linux computer.  My home network now includes two primary elements, a typical collection of home computers and a not so typical computing lab.  These days I focus on virtualization technology -- more on that later.  So while I've played with linux systems since linux first came on the scene, my linux computers were, at that juncture, all virtual machines running on VMware ESXi hosts.

I thought it might be fun to try and get linux running on the old iMac and use that glorious display to monitor network activity.  While the iMac was advertised as only accommodating 4 GB of memory (we had been using 2 GB) various web sites gave me the sense that the computer would handle 8 GB.  Those sites were correct.  (It makes me wonder if that change would have been enough to bring enough spark back to the old iMac to keep us from purchasing a new one.)

The current popular linux distributions all struggled to handle the Apple magic mouse and trackpad.  Linux bluetooth support for those two devices is spotty at best.  On the other hand, my USB wireless Logitech mouse worked right away.

Some linux distributions handled the old wired ethernet adapter in the iMac.  Some did not.  But finding the right patches for those distributions was relatively simple.  On the other hand, none of the distributions supported the wifi adapter in that particular iMac.  This is a topic that is well covered on the internet.  In the end, with more than a little struggle, I was able to tweak the two distributions I was considering, Debian and CentOS to solve that problem.

Debian proved to be unstable on my hardware while CentOS 7 has been rock solid.

With a very small investment in additional memory that old iMac has a new life and I've got a spectacular way to monitor traffic and devices on my home network.  It's nice to get a much better sense of how bandwidth is being used and where capacity is really becoming an issue.

Cut The Clutter At Home and On The Road -- Portable USB Charging Stations

So many people have a smart phone and a tablet too.  Then there are our other rechargeable devices.  What do they all seem to have in common?  USB charging ports.  Even my electric toothbrush uses a USB recharger.  There aren't enough electric outlets in convenient places.  In retrospect, the answer is obvious -- a single charging device with a bunch of USB connectors.  And if you have one of those, ideally you'd also have cables that aren't too long so you don't end up with a rats nest of charging cords.  I never gave much thought to these things until I read a review on The Wirecutter, a marvelous web site chock full of sensible thoughts on a broad array of gear.  That's where I was introduced to multi-port USB power adapters in general and those offered by Anker in particular.  I have one five port charger that I use in my home office and another five port charger that my wife uses.  I keep a third, in a small pouch, together with a collection of short charging cords, for travel.  No more fighting for the last outlet.

I've grown to respect The Wirecutter and very much appreciate things made by Anker.

A Few of My Favorite Things . . .

I'm not one of those people with a thousand gadgets.  I'm not someone who always has to have the latest and greatest gizmo.  However, from time to time, I learn of something that really pleases me or solves a problem really well.  Something that I think lots of people might enjoy.  I want to shine a little light on these treasures.  I will use this space to do so.

Hello World

My name is Richard Robbins, and I tinker with technology.  A lot.  I want to share some of my discoveries with those who might be interested.