They’ve got filth and muck on them!

Today I fixed my sprinkler system.  I don’t know much about sprinkler systems but google is wise.  The first thing I fixed was a shorted out solenoid.  If I wiggled the wires to it, I could get it to work for short periods of time.  I picked up a universal replacement from Lowes like this one.  After my tinkering I also noticed that other zones weren’t working properly and acting like they lacked water pressure.  This was a problem that I caused by replacing the bad solenoid and letting dirt get in the connection.  This prevented the solenoid from properly shutting the valve which left some water diverted to the first zone, thus decreasing the overall water pressure.  I removed the defective solenoid, shop-vac’ed the dirt out of the connection and put the replacement solenoid in place.  Then I stripped and connected the wires with waterproof wire nuts.  Ta da!  Now there was no more shorting out and I had full water pressure.

The next problem I fixed was the sprinkler head at the edge of the zone.  It was tilted in the grass so it only watered about half the zone.  I fixed that by just digging out the grass and dirt on one side, standing the sprinkler head up vertically and replacing the dirt on the other side to hold the sprinkler head in place.  That seems to have worked for now.  I’ll check it in a few days to make sure it is still upright.

Total cost was $14 for the solenoid and wire nuts and an hour of my time.  Now, hopefully I don’t have to think about the sprinkler system for another year!

DD-WRT firmware on Netgear WNDR4300 Router – Parenting Tool

To be honest, we haven’t been doing the best this summer with keeping the kids off their electronics.  In fact, we’re doing the worst we’ve ever done.  We’re busy.  The kids are addicted to their electronics and turning them off is a bit like taking the drugs away from an addict – not without a fight.

Not that long ago, I instituted a wifi blackout at 10pm and recently rolled it back to 9:30pm.  This helps keep the kids from trying to sneak their devices into their rooms to communicate with friends or play connected games. It also renders xbox online games mostly useless and stops youtube video watching all together.

Next I added a mid-day wifi blackout from 4-6pm to force the kids to go outside and play while the sun is out.  The first week went over like telling a smoker they can’t smoke on and airplane in 1980.  They played right up to the blackout time and then moped around for the next 2 hours.  After several days of being irritated with their antics, I threatened to extend the blackout if they didn’t start going outside to play.   Now it has been several weeks and they have actually started pulling out board games and making up their own games to play.  So far so good.

The next phase of my plan is to flip the blackouts so that the wifi blackouts are the norm and instead there will be open wifi times.  Once school starts, I plan to setup their wifi access so they can only have access between 6-8:30pm.  That should prevent them from rushing through their homework to get to video games and also kick them off early enough that they can take their ridiculously long showers before bed.

DD-WRT access restrictions on my router seem to be working pretty well.  Every once and a while they flake and I have to jiggle the handle by re-saving the already saved settings.  It is annoying but it isn’t frequent enough to make me want to switch to some other router or firmware.

Ubuntu 14.04 Tweaks

Here are some of the Ubuntu 14.04 tweaks I’ve found and took note of.  I didn’t invent or figure out any of these things (so don’t give me credit).  I just googled and then used them and took note of them so that I could use them in the future.  I no longer know where I found any of these so I’m sorry I’m not linking to the real source.  Hopefully someone else will find these useful too.

Click icon in unity taskbar minimizes a window or restores a window:

To enable:
dconf write /org/compiz/profiles/unity/plugins/unityshell/launcher-minimize-window true

To disable:
dconf write /org/compiz/profiles/unity/plugins/unityshell/launcher-minimize-window false

Change the terminal tab color so it is easier to see which tab is selected:

# Add this to the file to change the tab color in terminals so you can see which one is selected.  This will make the ative tab white and the inactive tabs grey

# Modify this file

TerminalWindow .notebook tab:active {
background-color: #ffffff;
TerminalWindow .notebook tab {
background-color: #C0C0C0;

Add ‘open in terminal’ to nautilus file browser:

sudo apt-get install nautilus-open-terminal

Force a higher resolution than the laptop screen provides:

Enable higher resolution:
xrandr –output LVDS1 –panning 1640×922 –scale 1.2×1.2

This is how I can force resolution to go back to default:
xrandr –output LVDS1 –panning 1366×768 –scale 1×1

Install encfs so you can have encrypted directories:

# Install encfs
sudo apt-get install encfs
sudo addgroup <your username> fuse

# Install Gnome Encfs Manager
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gencfsm
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gnome-encfs-manager

DD-WRT firmware on Netgear WNDR4300 Router – QoS and Port Forwarding Don’t Work Together

A few days ago I installed the DD-WRT firmware on my Netgear WNDR4300 Router.  This router was pretty good but the Quality of Service functionality was lacking.  I decided to try a switch to DD-WRT since I read on the web that it was possible.  This guy’s blog post describes the process very well so I followed his lead.

First I downloaded the img file from going to the dd-wrt site and searching the router database.  Then I downloaded the img file and uploaded it to my router.  After the install I refreshed the page and the dd-wrt software came up!  Easy!
Then I tried to configure QOS.  I set mine up by MAC address so it took some work to compile the list.  We have a tone of devices connected to wifi in my house at any one time:  ereaders, phones, pcs, game systems, oh my!  I first started by adding all the MAC addresses into the list but quickly realized that only the high priority devices need to be listed.  I listed my phone (for VOIP calling), our whole-house magicjack and my work and personal computers as higher priority devices:qos1I set the 2 voip devices as Premium.  I set my 2 computers at Express.  My kids game systems and ereaders will all be set at Standard by default.  This setup seems to work OK so far (after only a day or two):qosSetupOK, now for the bad news.  After googleing around and a fair amount of experimentation I discovered that UPNP or static port forwarding DO NOT WORK with QOS on DD-WRT firmware.  So you have to pick which one you want more.  This really stinks because I need both.  Xbox requires UPNP or static forwarding.  For now I’m using QOS but I might have to disable it to allow Xbox to use upnp.  If anyone knows how to get UPNP or static port forwading to work with QOS on DD-WRT please leave a comment.   If anyone knows of a router that can do both QoS and Port Forwarding well and at the same time, please leave a comment.  As soon as I enable QOS, my port forwards stop working.

Encrypted Folders with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (32bit)

Yesterday I setup encrypted folders using Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (32bit).  First I used CryptKeeper and then I switched to Gnome Encfs Manager.

I wanted an encrypted directory that could hold some old documents that needed to be encrypted (pdf statements, spreadsheets, etc).  First I installed encfs like this:

sudo apt-get install encfs
sudo addgroup <your username> fuse

Then I installed CryptKeeper from the Ubuntu Software Center.  CryptKeepr was sketchy.  Sometimes the toolbar shortcut was there.  Sometimes it wasn’t.

Then I tried Gnome Encfs Manager.  To install it I did this:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gencfsm
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gnome-encfs-manager

Gnome encfs manager has more options and seems to just work.  It will mount your encrypted directory wherever you like (configurable).  When you try to mount it it asks your for a password.  You type it in and tada!  Encrypted dir!

Ting vs. Verizon – Ting Saved Me $138

In December, my Ting cellular bill was very low considering I have 4 phones.  Here is how my bill broke down:

Ting Actual Bill (Nov 13 – Dec 12)

Combined Minutes   (medium):  $ 9.00
Combined Messages  (medium):  $ 5.00
Combined Megabytes (medium):  $ 3.00
4 Phone Devices:              $24.00
Usage Total:                  $41.00
Taxes and Fees:               $ 3.91
Total:                        $44.91

Verizon Hypothetical Bill

Android Device 1:             $ 45.00
Android Device 2:             $ 45.00
Android Device 3:             $ 45.00
Android Device 4:             $ 45.00
Usage Total:                  $180.00
Taxes and Fees:               $  3.91
Total:                        $183.91

Ting Saved Me $138 that month!

If my four android devices were on Verizon’s $45 ALLSET plans instead of Ting it would have cost me at least $180.  I suspect that I have underestimated the taxes on the Verizon accounts but I’m not sure.  I would have been able to use more minutes and more data and more text messages on Verizon but I didn’t.  Our actual usage was pretty  low because we are always on wifi as a family and we don’t talk on our cell phones that much.

How Did That Happen?

As I have explained in previous posts, we are heavy wifi users.  Our kids are young so their phones are mostly for emergencies or occasionally when they go over a friend’s house.  The kids use almost no minutes, messages or megabytes but both of their phones are active.  My wife is home on wifi a lot but she does text a lot.  She also uses her cell phone from time to time.   I’m home all the time so I use wifi for most things including voip calls over wifi.  I do text a lot – usually with my wife so that counts as 2 texts (me sending and her receiving).   We fit the perfect profile for a Ting user who saves a ton of money on cell usage.  We text plenty, don’t talk that much and don’t use much data (since we’re always on wifi).

Does That Mean That Verizon is A Bad Service?

No.  Verizon is a good service (so I’ve heard).  They have a ton of coverage and for some people it is probably a better choice than Ting.  If you use a lot of data or you talk on the phone a lot then it might save you money compared to Ting.  The other upside to Verizon is that their coverage map covers almost everything in America.  If you travel around for work, Verizon might be a better choice.  Heavy talkers should consider Verizon too.  Since my family doesn’t use much data or talk that much, we are better off with Ting.

Sign Up for Ting And Get a $25 Credit (I’ll get a $25 Credit Too)

If you find my blog posts about Ting helpful and are considering signing up for Ting, please consider using this link. If you use this link to sign up, we will both get a $25 credit in our Ting accounts (thanks!)