It took a year and a half of various efforts and dead ends, but by now I have actually figured out a way to force the fireplace in the photograph to make nice with a home automation ecosystem. It is a built-in gas-fired fireplace. This article describes the dead ends and the eventual success. Continue reading “Forcing your fireplace to make nice with home automation”
Of course it is smart to install whole-house surge protection as it relates to the electrical power wires in the house. See blog article. Having installed a nice Seimens FS140 whole-house surge protector, do you get to relax? Of course not! If a person is going to be thorough about this, one needs to think about the other wires and cables that enter the house from outside. Continue reading “Lightning protection around the house”
Hello readers. For some twenty years now I have had the highest level of amateur radio license that it is possible to have (“extra class”), but until now I have not really made full use of the license (call sign AA2KW). Until now I had only made use of the license for communications in the two-meter (VHF) and 70-centimeter (UHF) bands. Those bands are only useful for local communications (with others who are no more than a few miles away). Recently, however, some neighbors who are good friends asked if I might introduce their grandchildren to the world of HF (high frequency) amateur radio, which can reach thousands of miles. So I have put my toe in the water and maybe soon I will successfully do some two-way communications in the 40-meter HF band. Continue reading “Starting an HF ham radio station”
Everybody who is a Comcast internet customer eventually finds out that if you have one of these Comcast-provided routers that is the size of a cereal box, you are providing something called an “Xfinity hot spot” to everybody in the world.
The idea of the Xfinity hot spots, of course, is that this becomes a selling point — a reason why somebody might want to subscribe to Comcast internet service, so as to be able gain the benefit of the ten million or so of these cereal-box-sized routers that are in place around the US.
When you as a Comcast customer learn that you have one of these routers, and you learn that you are hosting an Xfinity hot spot, you wonder if there is any drawback to this. Are you, for example, going to see a hit on your internet speeds if half a dozen members of the public are connected to your hot spot and making heavy use of the connection? (I have done tests and yes, if you put enough public users on the hot spot, it does slow down the internet for the paying customer, especially if they are on a low-speed tier of service.) But a completely separate question is, is the Xfinity hot spot taking up radio spectrum space that you might need in your home or office for other devices, such as Bluetooth hearing aids, DECT cordless phones, or mesh networking devices? And of course the answer is yes.
Comcast goes out of its way to tout the ten million Xfinity hot spots to their potential users, and goes out of its way to minimize its candor toward the customers who host those hot spots. It takes quite a lot of clicking around on the Comcast web site to learn that you, dear reader, are hosting such a hot spot, and it takes even more clicking around on the Comcast web site to learn how to toggle the hot spot on or off.
Which leads to the natural question, how does one go about turning off one’s Xfinity hot spot? I spent the past 24 hours trying to turn it off for my new service that got installed yesterday, and I have still not succeeded. Continue reading “Trying to turn off Comcast’s stealth wifi hotspot”
The year was 2001 and semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and their use and interpretations) had by then permeated Western thought, I think mostly because of Umberto Eco’s erudite The Name of the Rose, published in 1980. I had just gotten done reading a rather baffling book that purported to find layers of meaning in the architecture of Hilton hotels around the world and their (I am not making this up) semiotic significance to the Cold War. And pulp writer Dan Brown had just embarked on his series of pop novels like Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, each of which would build a whole story arc on the thinnest of semiotic reeds. Continue reading “The Annotated Alice”
It is fun to learn about baluns. The word “balun” is a portmanteu (Wikipedia article) drawn from the words “balanced” and “unbalanced”. The idea of the balun (Wikipedia article) is to provide a way to connect a balanced electrical line and an unbalanced electrical line. I recently encountered the baluns that you see in the photograph at right, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they really worked well despite falling far short of the classic defining qualities of a balun. Continue reading “Learning about baluns”
Never until today had I seen a pickup truck that lacked a grille. Indeed over the years I had come to realize that motor vehicles differ from one to the next in the “gapingness” of the openings in the grille. Motor vehicles that are more, shall we say, manly, tend to have grilles with larger and more gaping openings. And here is an otherwise presumably extremely manly Ford pickup truck, but with … wait for it … no grille at all. There is only a sort of decorative panel in its place. Who can guess where I am going with this? What vehicle is this? Continue reading “A pickup truck with no grill?”
The first car I owned was a 1966 VW bug. It cost me $750. When I bought that car in 1977, I was the king of the world. I was independent. I could drive around wherever and whenever I wanted. Now as I look back in 2022, this reminds me of the the current-versus-voltage tradeoff that has permeated everything in our lives ever since. Continue reading “Higher voltage? Lower current?”
Now and again, usually completely by accident, I learn of some very clever and inexpensive device that solves some problem that previously could only be addressed in some complicated way. The magnetic camber gauge, seen at right, is such a device. Continue reading “Magnetic camber gauges”