Archive for the 'cool stuff that doesn’t cost much' Category

tech: Raspberry Pi as a print server

I admit it. I’m late to the party. But it’s still quite a good party. Raspberry Pi is tasty.

My wife upgraded her Mac to Mavericks, and then the shared printer stopped working. The printer is hosted on a WinXP system. (Yeah, I know XP is going out of service really soon, getting it upgraded is on my to-do list. It’s turned into the kids’ PC so I don’t invest much in it.) So Apple apparently made some changes in Mavericks so that it doesn’t play well with SMB on WinXP. That laser is our family workhorse printer. She’s frustrated she can’t print to it. I’m not going to be able to get to the XP upgrade for a month or two, so what to do until then?

Aha! Use a Raspberry Pi as a standalone print server. I would like an excuse to get an R-Pi and play with it. So I go online and order the model B with an SD card preinstalled with NOOBS, a nice long USB power cable to go with the power supply, and a case. $87 with tax and shipping, more than I expected.

It arrived this morning. I assembled the case – the most difficult part was peeling off the protective film. Except that the power connector was just a hair too big to fit through the case – get out the Dremmel tool and grind a little bit of the acrylic plastic away on the case, and after a couple tries it fits fine. I found a really good article at HowToGeek on general setup of the R-Pi. I plug the HDMI cable into my PC monitor, ethernet into my home router, power into the wall, and USB into the and keyboard and mouse. Select Raspberian. After some apt-get work to fetch the latest software and install CUPS, it’s ready for customization. Now get sshd running on it using raspi-config, so I can remotely login without a physically-attached monitor/keyboard/mouse, now I can reuse one of the USB ports to connect my printer. It is really cool that a Linux machine running X11 costs only $35 and isn’t much bigger than a credit card (except for the thickness). I give it a static IP on my home network, since it is a server.

I follow more helpful instructions on configuring CUPS locally on the R-Pi, then try printing a test page locally from the CUPS admin panel. The first try using the “Foomatic/foo2zjs-z1” recommended driver (built-in) didn’t result in anything happening , I then tried the “CUPS+Gutenprint v5.2.9” driver (built-in) and it works! No need to download a ppd file from HP.

From a Mac, now in the Settings for “Print & Scan”, click on plus sign to add a printer, and it shows up automatically as a Bonjour printer. Sweet! That was painless.

Now to get it printing from a WinXP client – changing it from a local printer to a remote printer. First delete the local printer. Using the bartbania site listed above it suggested that I define the printer on XP using it’s share name of \\\printers\HP_LaserJet_1022. But that fails to add the printer. A bit more searching and I find the CUPS docs that suggest the other radio button to add it to XP with a remote URI of That works! IPP was first added to Windows in XP. So now it’s working from both Mac and Windows clients. Mission accomplished.

Bonus points: I can print from my iOS device using AirPrint! It turns out that AirPrint is just an an extension to IPP, and CUPS seems to handle it fine. I’ve printed from my iPhone and from my wife’s iPad. It should work for any iOS app that is AirPrint enabled. I didn’t have to do any more work than what is already described above.

More bonus points: it’s not much more work to enable this printer for Google Cloud Print. Just follow these instructions. Basically you need to just install Chromium and do some configuration with it, before you unplug the keyboard, mouse, and HDMI.

Now tuck this little box neatly away next to the printer. But in a way that I can still see the LEDs. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll attach a USB disk drive as use it as a NAS or DLNA server.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &tech tips marcelk 04 Jan 2014 1 Comment

life: Blockbuster video on-demand

Back in the day, there was a Blockbuster store right down the street from my house. My family would go in on the weekends and pick on a DVD to rent. That Blockbuster store is now gone. And so are many others. Now the closest store is a 15 minute drive away. Since I’ve had Netflix, I haven’t thought about Blockbuster. And if something wasn’t available on Netflix, I’d look at Amazon streaming rentals. Literally a couple of windows away from that old Blockbuster store is a Redbox kiosk.

So when I was in the mood for a movie yesterday, I couldn’t find what I was looking for on Netflix. Or Redbox. Or Amazon. So on a whim I looked at and found their streaming rental service, Blockbuster On Demand. Instead of running a monthly subscription, it is on a per-rental basis (pay for what you use). So I can keep an account there for occasional use without hitting recurring charges. When streaming, it doesn’t play in your browser like Netflix, they have a standalone app for Mac, PC, and Android (curiously, not for iOS). I watched an old 80’s movie, so I can’t speak much to the picture quality due to the master, but it did stream flawlessly. I found a movie to watch, and nobody else had it.

So it’s worth giving Blockbuster a shot. Will this be enough to help them survive as a company? Looks like they are playing their cards right from and end user’s perspective, but it won’t be the same Blockbuster store down the street – those are likely gone forever.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &life tips marcelk 28 Feb 2013 No Comments

cars: iPod adapter for Acura RSX-S

As I mentioned in an earlier post, for the Acura RSX Type-S, there is no real good integration of an iPod into the sound system. I had been using a cassette adapter, but the sound quality of those is so-so, and you need a separate cigarette-lighter cord to provide charging. The presence of a built-in CD exchanger prevents a simple aftermarket add-on.

After deciding to do some real upgrades, I’ve got a solution I’m happy with, it turned out to be a bit easier than I thought, and it sounds great.

First I got replacement speakers. I’ve always been a Crutchfield fan (because of their service and knowledge, not their prices), and ordered a set of 4 Polk Audio db 651s 6-1/2″ for the door and rear panels. At the time Crutchfield had the first set of 2 for $100, and the 2nd set of 2 discounted to $50. So $150 for 4 new speakers plus all the hardware and car-specific installation instructions. Wow, even with the original Acura head unit still there, the sound difference was quite large. Upon taking the original speakers out, I see that they are just cheap paper cone speakers. High end Acura Bose system? Not! If you care about sound quality at all, new speakers is the biggest bang-for-the-buck that you can do.

The speakers in the rear went in pretty easy. Just pop out the grill, unscrew, disconnect, and do the reverse with the new stuff. For the front doors, you need to remove the entire interior door panel and replace them from the inside, it’s not simple like the rear. This was probably that hardest part of the whole job. But still possible with a panel tool and some care.

The small speakers in the top of the dash really aren’t feasible to replace without taking the dash or the windshield out – I just left them there, and I get plenty of highs from the door speakers.

And I left the factory subwoofer as-is. More about that in a moment.

Lastly was a new head unit. I chose a JVC KW-KR810 for $300. Getting it installed (again, with the help of the car-specific instructions and hardware from Crutchfield) wasn’t bad. I had a hard time getting the old unit out because Acura was apparently a bit too liberal with the glue at the assembly factory. I ended up breaking the faceplace of the factory unit, after being as careful as possible. But the glue made me force it. But once that out was, the rest was straight forward.

I chose to go with the double-DIN format instead of the single-DIN. Visually, I find this fits better with the original styling of the Type-S. And since there is plenty of room to work with, might as well. In retrospect, I should have done the same with the new head unit in my wife’s Odyssey. I don’t need a little storage slot underneath the single-DIN head unit.

Frankly, one of the main reasons I chose this unit (besides the iPod integration) is because it offers custom colors in the lighting. So I’m able to maintain that even red lighting on the dash at night – it’s a total match. It allows for another color set when the headlights are off, so I can pick a nice visible white for that. My wife shakes her head at me for this, but I like maintaining the design integrity.

There is a cheaper version of this JVC unit without Bluetooth phone integration, but I chose to get this feature included. It comes with a wired microphone that I can install near the windshield visor. When a call comes in, the iPod pauses, I get the caller ID on the head unit, I push a button to answer, and the audio plays on the speakers. I find it great to not have to juggle my phone out of my pocket when getting a call. I underestimated how much I would like this. I can also make calls from the head unit with a few button pushes (it relies on remembered phone numbers, it’s not voice activated).

The other thing I really like about this unit is that the iPod controls are still active when it is docked and playing though the head unit. That means if I want to jump to another playlist or whatever, I can do that using my iPod itself, and not some menu mish-mash on the head unit.

One thing to realize about the original Acura stereo is that there is an external amp. So when connecting an aftermarket unit in to the wiring harness, the output lines to don’t go directly to the speakers, they go to an amp. So along with the head unit Crutchfield had me buy a PAC SOEM-4 interface to turn down the speaker outputs into what is suitable as inputs to the Acura amp. The external amp feeds the subwoofer, (so there are 4 inputs and 5 outputs), which may be why new head unit’s RCA outputs can’t be used.

Once the new head unit was hooked up and playing, I was surprised to hear another jump in audio quality (even from CDs). This time, I could actually hear the factory subwoofer. With the old head unit, I wondered if the subwoofer was actually hooked up. With the new head unit, no question. Boom! Hearing some real bass makes for a different listening experience. Yeah, the RSX has a lot of road noise, so it does get a bit drowned out, but that can be overcome by cranking up the volume ;-)

Another simple but nice item about the JVC head unit is two USB jacks it has. I connected the Bluetooth stub to the front USB jack, and connected my iPod to the rear USB jack. The rear USB jack isn’t reachable once the unit is installed, so I got an iPod-USB cable that I connected at install time, and snaked out the back and down the center console. This gets rid of an ugly cable hanging out the front of the stereo. And I got a black cable instead of the Apple white one, so it isn’t so obvious I have an iPod in the car. I can put my iPod in the cup holder in the center console and close the sliding cover such that only a subtle black cable is showing for just a few inches. I was able to get a black cable by buying a wall charger kit and discarding the wall charger.

There are a couple wishes I have that weren’t included in the head unit. First, when you turn the unit off, it is completely off. Not even the clock shows. I can push a button that will show the clock for 5 seconds when the unit is powered off (this is active only when the ignition is on), it would have been trivial for JVC to make this a configurable setting. It’s the only clock in the car (unlike some other cars). Second, the Bluetooth phone operation does not give you the ability to mute the microphone. You can mute the speaker output during a phone call, but not the input. That’s backwards. So, when I want to mute my phone (for example, when doing a teleconference during a traffic jam) I have to hit my phone’s mute button, which means I can’t keep it in my pocket – it has to be out and open.

It’s been about 10 months with this new system, and I still am very pleased with it. Should have done it way sooner.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 06 Sep 2011 No Comments

fun: traffic signs

Maybe it’s just a guy thing, but I was always liked traffic signs. Something about them is official, fun, and about going places. I always wanted to hang some for decorations inside my house, but stealing them is just wrong. So after doing a little research, I was surprised to discover you can buy them. New ones, the real things. Yes, we are talking the highly-reflective full-size mounted on thick aluminum, just like what your city or state uses. These are not the cheap decorations you find in the art supply mega-store.

Here is a sign I purchased and posted outside our laundry room:

I found 3 suppliers online:

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I found. I made my purchase from USA Traffic Signs, and was serviced well. You may have a local supplier if you look in the phone book under “Barricades”.

The stock sign I bought was $18 plus shipping. Also possible but even more expensive are green street signs with whatever name you want (~$40). You can also get US Highway (route 66, anyone?) and Interstate signs with numbers you select, but those are more expensive ($40-60).

There are different sizes available. You probably want the smallest size. The larges ones on the side of the road look small, but that is because you are far away. They really are quite large, too large for a typical decoration.

Also look for the reflectivity: “engineer grade” (good) or “high intensity prismatic” (better).

And if you have an unusual thrist for knowledge about traffic signs, take a read through the Unofficial Manual of Traffic Signs. It even tells you which font to use in Photoshop to make it look real.

Now that you know where to honestly purchase signs, don’t steal any!

And if you are really into this kind of thing, how about a traffic light? ;-)

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 21 Mar 2010 No Comments

stuff: a decent vacuum cleaner

Yes, sometimes small things bother me. We’ve had a vacuum cleaner that worked decent for a bunch of years, but is falling apart now. The brush is falling apart, the tools don’t stay attached to the hose, light bulbs last only a couple weeks, etc. I’ve replaced a bunch of parts on it, and finally my wife says “None of my tools work!” So time for a replacement.

After doing reading on and Amazon reviews (which is one of the major reasons I purchase from Amazon) looking for a good performer at a decent price, I settled on a Hoover UH30010COM. Using it for a week, here are my impressions:

There are actually two cleaners in the package, the first is the upright which you expect, but for bonus points there is a small portable canister. The canister has a shoulder strap, or you can just carry it since it is decently light, and is great for doing a flight of stairs or cleaning the inside of your car, or sucking the cobwebs from the ceiling. It does require a bag (1 included) and is a bit noisy, but I find it nice and portable. My only complain is that there isn’t an obvious place to wind the cord, and not a place to park the long tube attachment and wide brush when they are not in use. Both of my boys were arguing about getting to use it to clean the stairs and other spots – we’ll see how long that lasts.

The upright is very lightweight. The UPS guy that delivered it said he was interested in one for his parents, I think it would be great for anyone with limited strength. It moves effortlessly across the carpet, it’s almost as if it has a power drive assist. It has a high/low setting, so you can tune it down if you want to be a bit more gentle or quiet. The power button lights up when it is plugged in, so you know if you have power. It has LED headlights for the floor instead of a incandescent bulb, so those won’t burn out. It’s more quiet than our old vacuum and seems to pull up more dirt. It has a large bag, inside of a zippered fabric pouch. Has a nice handle for carrying around, and the usual cord winder. It has rollers on the front of the base, so when you wheel it across a wood floor it isn’t rubbing/scratching as it goes. It claims to have self-adjusting height, which I don’t have experience with as our carpet is uniform.

Overall I’m very pleased. A good choice. It was $250 for both machines on Amazon. Don’t forget to get extra bags for both the canister and the upright (different bag types).

cool stuff that doesn't cost much marcelk 20 Dec 2009 No Comments

life: deer hunting with an Acura

What is it with deer? You would think that they are used to being chased by predators and are careful to avoid getting hurt and watch where they are going, except whenever there is a car involved in which case they go kamikaze.

Friday evening I’m driving home from work. It’s dark, rainy, and I’m going about 50 mph down a 4 lane divided road. Then I hear a big thunk. That was not a pothole. I didn’t see anything before it happened. It felt like it came from the left side of the car, so I immediately look to the left. I see just on the other side of the window a close-up of a deer head, a doe. My brain says, “ok, you just hit a deer”. I look in the rearview mirror as I slow down and I see the deer get up off the ground and run off the road into the woods.

There isn’t anywhere to stop on the road I’m on, so I pull of onto the first side street into an apartment complex. First step is to take a look at the damage. I try to open the driver’s side door to get out, but it won’t open more than a little bit. So I crawl across to get out the passenger’s side door and walk around. It’s just bent sheet metal, and the side mirror is hanging down. The door has a good-sized bend, there is a couple dents in the fender. Sigh, first damage to this car.

IMG_5143I call the police, it turns out that a police report isn’t needed. I took it in to a body shop for an estimate. They will replace the fender, the outer shell of the door, and the side mirror. The insurance company has been really good to work with, they are covering it under my comprehensive coverage instead of the collision coverage, which for me has no deductible so it won’t cost me anything out of pocket. My friends say “oh no, this is your favorite call that you blogged about? We’re so sorry!” Yes, the car was in basic pristine condition prior to this. But I’m OK with it, although it is a pain it won’t cost me anything and it will be put back in pristine condition. So I take a deep breath and just deal with it.

Another week and it should be all fixed.

So as I’m looking at the damage waiting for the police to arrive, I’m thinking that if I had been a couple hundreths of a second later I would have hit the deer head on and it would have been a much more unpleasant outcome. So I do have things to be grateful for.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &life tips marcelk 22 Nov 2009 1 Comment

tech + fun: hack your Canon digital camera

I have a Canon PowerShot pocket camera. I’m not a fancy photographer, but it works for me. I saw mention of a way to load a firmware addition in the camera that opens up all kinds of new features. This works on lots of different Canon models. Take a look at the features to see if they are interesting.

The net is that you download a file, unzip it to your SD card, put the card in the camera, press a special button sequence, and there it is. If you don’t like it, just power cycle your camera and don’t do the special button sequence, as it needs to be loaded each time. I think this is pretty cool. Just having a decent battery meter is a big help.

It’s called CHDK, and it’s free. Take a look if you have a Canon camera.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &tech tips marcelk 07 Sep 2009 No Comments

tech: free IBM WebSphere Application Server (J2EE server) for developers

If you are a J2EE developer, you should be interested in this. The IBM WebSphere Application Server runtime is being made available to developers at no cost. Developers can use the development runtime test environment that is identical to the WebSphere Application Server (WAS) production runtime environment on their desktop at no charge for development and testing. And this is the recent version 7 of WAS. If you are considering a J2EE server, this is a great way to try out WAS.

(Disclaimer: yes, I am employed by IBM.)

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &tech tips marcelk 02 Jul 2009 No Comments


Another weird name for a well-done web site. Real reviews by real people. I’ve discovered Yelp.

I’ve found a few good leads that I didn’t know of, but I guess it’s a good outlet for me to write and share my list of favs with others. If you’re local, hopefully you’ll find something of value. I’ll keep adding to it.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &entertainment marcelk 29 Jun 2009 No Comments

fun: classic Looney Tunes on iTunes for $2

I was recently lamenting that without cable or satellite, none of our local TV stations show the classic Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, and the like. I have kids that have never seen these. (When they get in high school I’ll show them Animaniacs.) On a whim, I did a search on iTunes for a favorite episode, “Rabbit of Seville”. It found a video that is part of a DVD-size collection from Warner Brothers. The good news is that you can buy singles at $1.99 each from the collection. Each single consist of two episodes, 15 minutes of cartoon. I picked up a couple of my favorites, especially from the Chuck Jones era. It means I have to watch them on a computer screen instead of a TV screen (I don’t have AppleTV), but that’s not so bad. Now I can re-live some memories of Saturday mornings as a kid.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &entertainment marcelk 22 Jan 2009 No Comments

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