Home Hacks – DC Blower Motor

A couple days ago we had to replace the air conditioning condenser and evaporator units in our home’s central air system.  The unit was 21 years old and was leaking coolant slowly throughout the last summer.  It was just time.  The new unit is much more efficient, handles more air, and should be quieter even though it’s physically larger.

We had been talking about another item in our furnace and that was replacing the A/C motor with a D/C motor.  The A/C motor is called a PSC or permanent split capacitor motor and they are largely inefficient over time.  The Nest Thermostat allows you to schedule your fan to be on for time periods in the day.  We’ve been running our fan for 15 minutes every hour during the daytime to keep air circulating to reduce warm/cool spots and to help reduce dust.  Running the fan that much with a standard PSC blower is expensive and taxing on the motor itself.


The D/C motor is called an ECM – or electronically commutated motor.  It has a built-in transformer to convert to DC, uses less energy and can change its speed variably without suffering on efficiency.  The motors are also built with better ball bearings and are meant to be on 24×7 for the life of the unit.  The ECM motor is set to run at the lowest & quietest speed for circulation and then speeds up when the heat or A/C turns on.  We can leave the fan on 24×7 for the same (maybe even less) energy cost that the old A/C fan for 15 minutes every hour between 6am and 10pm.

If you have an energy efficient furnace (which we don’t right now) then you may be eligible for a rebate from your State.  The State of Wisconsin gives homeowners a $125 check for replacing their PSC motors with an ECM if you have a furnace that is efficient at 90% or greater.

More about ECMs




Mounting Wires Under a Standing Desk

I purchased an UpDesk PowerUp Series I (original) last year and love it.  I got the standard maple-colored desk top and am very happy with the density of the wood, quality laminate and curved front edge.  The one thing I was not very satisfied with was the mounting option given for the clasps keeping the wiring under it from hanging.  I was given a good amount of these self-adhesive twist plastic cable ties:


Simple yet effective solution, right?  Yes but only if the adhesive pad would stick longer than a couple of days to the underside of the desk.  The adhesive was hit or miss on the surface.  I searched around for solutions that were permanent but not so much that if I wanted to move wires or add additional ones it would require unscrewing something.  I ended up finding these gems at Home Depot:


Source: HomeDepot.com

They have an adhesive backing to them and an optional screw hole for which I bought 1/2″ #8 wood screws.  Works like a charm.  You then take any old zip tie and feed it through and tie your cords up.


So now I have the wires under the table all neatly attached.  I no longer have to worry about finding plastic ties fallen off the table and sticking to my hardwood floor.


On Aging Content – The Long Process of Conversion

We bought our first house in June 2001 and moved to our new home in January 2013.  In that 12 years (plus the five years in apartments) we’ve create a crap ton of content.  That content is in the form of home video and movies on VCR tapes, photographs, negatives and all of the digital files stored on CDs, DVDs, and hard drives.  I realized that some of that content is on aging media (VCR tapes and IDE hard drives) and needs to be moved to newer storage to prevent inaccessibility.  We all have a responsibility of archiving that content so that our future selves and generations have access to it for historical and entertainment purposes.  We all must become archivists.

Our parents had an easier job – pay gobs of money to buy the photographic film and get it developed and printed after.  Then physically store those photos in an album or shoebox and then archive them in a dark basement.  Passing those archives on simply requires handing the printed media over to the next caretaker.  With our photo albums now becoming entirely digital, this process just won’t work any more for new content.

My first digital camera was a crappy Sony hybrid webcam/battery powered digital camera.  It took the world’s shittiest photos but at the time was super convenient and fun to use.  I did a really poor job about keeping track of those images because of it’s novelty – I didn’t realize how important those files would be.  I look back at my huge Aperture/iPhoto library and see big gaps.  I kick myself all the time for losing those images.  I may have burned them onto a CD or DVD but I’ve since lost track of that by poorly labeling the discs with a marker.

There are several things we have to do to keep the content we create safe and available for future generations:

  • Back everything up.  Back up it again.  Consider backing up to the Internet to a media sharing service like Flickr/Picasa Web/SmugMug or a file backup service like Backblaze.
  • Leave instructions for next of kin on how to access your archives.  Passwords, safe deposit boxes, physical storage locations should be listed.
  • Label things – hard drives, CDs, DVDs. Make sure it’s visibly marked as important to prevent it from being tossed out.
  • Convert for the future – Magnetic media isn’t forever – move files to newer technology and file formats as time passes.
  • Organize – You don’t know what you have unless you can find it easily.  Physically organize as well as digitally.

I just bought an Elgato Video Capture device to help convert video from VCR tapes over to a digital format.  It’s time consuming but worth it in the end.  I can’t believe some of the home video footage I found that I’ve totally forgotten about!

We have a responsibility to keep moving those archives forward as new technology comes out.  Every couple of years make sure to audit your collections and make sure you’re keeping the memories safe for when you really want to relive them and to pass them on.


Why I Use VPN on My Mobile Devices

I’m not terribly paranoid about online security compared to some. I do take some extra precautions when doing things online that involves financial data and logging into accounts.  Here are a few rules I follow internally when out and about:

  • Public WiFi should only be used when cellular data isn’t sufficient or available
  • Always ask what the SSID (network name) is when using public WiFi at a coffee shop – don’t assume you’ve picked the right one
  • Never ever do anything with financial information (banks, credit cards including purchases)
  • Never create new accounts over public WiFi
  • Wired and “protected” WiFi at hotels is just as unsafe as public WiFi
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network) to a trusted destination when using a public Internet connection
  • Secure your home WiFi with a strong password and WPA2-PSK encryption

A virtual private network connection lets you create a safe connection from where you are to where the VPN server resides.  Depending on the VPN configuration it may allow you to go back out to the Internet from there or you may be limited to local connections only on the server side.  In the case of how I use VPN, I connect to a home server which effectively makes someone in the coffee shop I’m at unable to see my online activity.

I have a Mac mini running Mac OS X Mavericks + Server at home – it actually is the machine I use in my entertainment stand for movies and recording TV off the air.  I have the VPN service turned on so that when I am out of my home I can tunnel through to home and back out onto the Internet.  VPN can be configured on most mobile devices (Android and iOS) and laptops (Windows, Mac and Linux).  It does require some technical knowledge to do this.

There are also apps you can purchase for your mobile device to give you a VPN connection.  The problem I have with these services is you have no idea what’s happening on the server side.  If the point of using VPN is to prevent eavesdroppers from seeing your secure data then you have to be able to trust the entire connection.  VPN does provide a false sense of security in the sense that it’s not securing the entire conversation.  VPN is only secure up to the end point (server).  If someone has access to that server, there is a chance they can snoop on your activity.

In the end, just be careful what you’re doing online in public areas.  Cellular data is certainly more secure than public WiFi but it’s still susceptible to snooping.  There is a fine line between paranoia and convenience so you’ll just want to determine where that line lies for yourself.


Android Emoji Isn’t What You Expect


Public Service Announcement – Be careful who you send emoji characters to via text message – they may not be getting the output you expect!


I was at a friend’s house and she showed me her phone after getting a bunch of cryptic messages from an iOS user.  I realized emoji doesn’t necessarily render correctly on Android phones.  Apparently KitKat fixes this to some success, however, she can’t upgrade to that OS quite yet.  Google Hangouts as her SMS application helped some but only to send.  She still receives the malformed UTF-16 characters.

Anyone have a good suggestion for an app or keyboard to install on a non-rooted Android device?


Verizon Wireless & Voice over 3G/LTE

A few years back I switched to Verizon Wireless here in the States which is a predominately CDMA-based carrier with a fairly large LTE 4G network.  Previously I was on AT&T which is a traditional GSM network with a LTE 4G network as well.  I left AT&T because their footprint where I spend most of my summer is quite poor and results in the inability to work remotely there or even enjoy streaming radio.

There are times I do regret leaving a GSM provider.

One of those times is when I remember I can’t use data on the phone while I’m talking on it.  Granted I don’t make all that many phone calls with my iPhone 5s but when I do it always seems to be when I’m using data.  I’ve heard the arguments before – why do you need to surf the web when you’re talking on the phone?  In the past that argument satiated me but recently I’ve realized I use data ALL THE TIME.

  • iMessage – You can’t get messages while you’re on the phone unless the sender is on a phone and has the ability to send a text when it fails.  Sucks.
  • FaceTime – Same deal, no data, no FaceTime.  The FaceTime users get no indicator you’re on the phone because your Mac back home is ringing without you there.
  • Navigation – I use Waze for navigation and traffic – it’s a pain when I’m on the phone right before my last turn comes and the data craps out.
  • Finding shit for friends – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the phone and need to look something up like directions or what have you.

The list could go on forever.  Verizon DOES have a solution for this – route calls over their 3G or LTE networks.  It’s been in place for some time with their 3G network but they’ve neglected to roll it out to their most popular phone models including the iPhone.  This update would effectively turn all your calls into VoIP calls and go over the data connection.  I do this already with FaceTime Audio when I’m talking with someone who has it but the downside is by doing it myself, I’m using up my data allocation.  I’d assume Voice over LTE wouldn’t go against your data plan but rather stay with the voice plan.

I’m not sure what the delays are other than they underestimated strain on their already strained network.  I’d also like to go back in time and kick whomever designed CDMA in the head that didn’t allow simultaneous voice and data.


I like Shiny Things

Last week I was having a discussion with my coworkers about how I think someone should feel when viewing/interacting with their site stats in the WordPress world.  I made a list of things I’d expect and one of them I wrote down was definitely inspired by my personality:

do really like shiny things.  Okay maybe part of it is attention-related but in general I like things that stand out.  Why have stuff that’s dull and drab when it perform the same function but LOOK AWESOME?

You’ve seen my laptop.

You’ve seen my desk lamp.

And I’ll further confirm it with my shoes and custom WordPress backpack.



Shiny Things keep me engaged and entertained.