High Speed Internet

Last year when AT&T bought Bellsouth they had to agree to make DSL available for only $10 per month to existing phone customers who did not yet have DSL service with Bellsouth. They started offering this in July or so. But they also were required to offer DSL service without phone service for $19.95 per month to anyone in the Bellsouth service area. My plan was to wait for this and then drop my home phone service (about all I use my home phone for is dial-up internet and receiving unsolicited phone calls from my credit card company and non-profit organizations). The DSL service would actually cost less than my phone line. According to today’s paper, they started offering this on December 20, calling it FastAccess DSL Direct. The plan is actually DSL Lite, their slowest service with speeds “up to” 768 kilobits per second. My dialup is up to 50.6 kbps and right now is 48 kbps, so it should be a big speed upgrade even though AT&T offers plans of up to 3,000 kbps and 1,500 kbps.

The only catch is that you have to pay $75 for a modem. If you order DSL service over the web you can get a rebate of the $75, but you can only order the stand-alone DSL service over the phone. AT&T has to offer the $19.95 service for 30 months, so over a couple of years I wasn’t worried about the $75 for the modem. I called the toll-free number, 1-800-626-9149, waited on hold for about 20 minutes, and was ready to order. They were even going to cancel my phone service at the same time. I asked if there was any way to order this online so that I didn’t have to pay $75 for the modem. They said I could go ahead and order DSL lite online, get the modem, file the rebate, and then call AT&T and have them cancel my phone service and start giving me the $19.95 deal. So I’m going to try that. I can’t do it right now because they initiated an order for me and I have to wait a couple of hours before that order will be out of the system. It’s like waiting 2 hours to go swimming after you eat lunch.

Roth IRA

In January I decided to put my 2007 Roth IRA contribution in Vanguard’s total international fund. The total fund includes some exposure to emerging markets which was a very good thing since Vanguard’s emerging markets fund was up 40% compared to 11% for developed markets. This lifted the total fund up to 14% for the year.

The growth half of the S&P 500 index fund did very well with a 15% return, vs. 7.5% for the 500 index (my small cap value index fund actually lost about 4%). Whereas last year my do-good FTSE Social Index fund had outperformed the growth index, this year it got walloped and FTSE actually lost a little bit of money (-0.5%). So I will lose my social conscience and put that money elsewhere. I didn’t mind when there was a little bit of a spread between the two, but 15.5% is just too much.

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Power Consumption Down

After getting the new fridge I was hoping my electricity bills would go down noticeably. But I wasn’t sure how much. Fortunately winter is a good time to see because electricity use is fairly consistent (in the summer it just depends on how hot it is). In November my average energy consumption has been 395 kilowatt-hours. But this past November, with the new fridge only installed for a couple of weeks, energy use was 312. It was my lowest November total ever (though the billing period was only 28 days). I got my December bill this week and it was my lowest number ever: 281 kwh (in 31 days), well below the December average of 400. That comes out to a savings of about $13 per month. I don’t know that the refrigerator is entirely to blame: the weather has been fairly warm so the fans for the heating system haven’t been running much. Also there is a writer’s strike and I’m not doing Netflix, so my TV watching has been down. I’m always putting in more compact fluorescent lights (I’m up to at least 15), so maybe there is some savings there as well. But it’s looking like I will be able to save $10 a month with the new fridge.

Building the MintyBoost

Although my own homemade Band Aids Battery Pack still works fine with newer iPods (and just about anything else that charges via a car adapter), I still wanted to try to build the very popular and ingenious MintyBoost charger, which was invented and thoroughly documented by Limor Fried (aka ladyada) on Instructables and then later updated on her own website. I had written about it when it first came out but couldn’t use it at the time since my 3G iPod would only charge via firewire. The advantage of the MintyBoost is that it only uses 2 AA batteries and charges via the iPod’s USB cable. Due to Apple’s varying implementation of USB requirements over time, no USB charger seems to work with every iPod let alone every USB device out there.

Now that I have an 8 GB 3G nano with video that charges via a USB cable, I thought I would try my hand at putting together a do-it-yourself electronics kit.

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Versapak Rejuvenated!

Before you go further, I have to say that while I was able to get some capacity from the batteries this way, it did not make the dead Versapak batteries usable for any real work and I wound up finding some NiMH replacements.

When I first got my house ten years ago, I started buying some Black and Decker Versapak tools because I was needing several cordless tools and it seemed smart to have them all use the same battery. I wound up with a dustbuster, screwdriver, drill, and snakelight. Eventually the NiCad batteries stopped taking a charge and, although B&D had stopped selling Versapak tools, I was able to get two more batteries from Target. That was 2004, but one of the batteries went kaput pretty quickly and had stopped taking a charge at all. Since the dustbuster and drill both need two batteries, I needed something better than these memory-prone NiCad batteries. B&D makes “gold” versions of the batteries that are really NiMH batteries, so I ordered two of those last night. NiMH batteries don’t have memory effect, but I worry that my charger won’t work properly with NiMH (my conclusion was that it would work, but it might take twice as long to charge the batteries) (eventually I started using a hobby charger to charge the NiMH replacements).

Versapak zapping

Today I searched eBay for “Versapak” and found a guy who was selling information for $12.95 on how to rejuvenate Versapak batteries. I’m no dummy, if there is that kind of knowledge available, it is free somewhere on the internet. I did find a site where you would get a transformer and a big resistor and could zap a battery back to life. That seemed complicated.

Then I searched more and learned about chemical “whiskers” that develop in NiCad batteries and cause them to stop charging (or, really, to stop giving off a charge). Searching further about whiskers, I found this page on Instructables. Though the guy uses a welder, basically he is just applying a large DC current to the battery which burns the whiskers out and restores the battery to normal. All he did was touch the ends to the battery. It gives off sparks and the battery is revived.

I don’t have a welder, but I do have a car battery which has a lot of amperage. I put on some gloves and got my jumper cables. The + end of the Versapak battery is inside a hole on one end of the battery and the outside of the battery is negative. I found a bolt that would fit in the + hole and held the bolt in the jaws of the jumper cables. Then I put the – jumper clamp around the battery itself. Wearing gloves to keep myself from getting shocked, I stuck the bolt in the hole and got a few small sparks. I did it again for just a second or so. Is that all there was to it?

Yes. I took the battery back inside and hooked it up to my volt meter. Before the battery was giving off 0.01 mV. Now it was up to 4 V, just like the fully charged good one. I stuck it in my screwdriver. Power!

Amazing. However, the power didn’t really last long. I am recharging the battery in its charger to see if I can get something closer to a full charge.

Family Portrait

I am the keeper of the address list for my Peace Corps group. So a few weeks before Christmas I send out an e-mail and ask for updated information. Last year I also asked people to submit a paragraph about what they have been up to if they wanted and put it together (like FOPAB). A couple of people sent pictures, which I hadn’t really thought of, but since they did it I asked Susan to take a picture of me and the dogs for the newsletter. It isn’t easy to get the dogs to stand still, let alone look in a certain direction. Austin was fairly easy because he would just lean on me, but Katie was always on the lookout for anything interesting (like a cute photographer).

Sell It on eBay

After realizing that I couldn’t use the 4 GB memory card I had bought for my Palm and figuring nobody else would need it either, I decided to try selling it on eBay. I have shopped for electronics on eBay before and have generally been disappointed that the winning bids are usually higher than what you can get the same item for by shopping around. Plus most eBay sellers have ridiculous shipping rates that inflate the price further. Well, when you have something to sell, that all works to your advantage.

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The Evil Ticketmaster

When I was in college, the student paper would always refer to Ticketmaster as The Evil Ticketmaster. They were evil then and are still evil. Ticketmaster, as far as I know, invented the term “convenience charge” which they use to apply to anything. In 1994 one of the most popular bands in the country, Pearl Jam, was preparing to go on tour. They decided to sell tickets for only $18 and said fees could be no more than 10%, keeping the ticket price less than $20. The Evil Tickemaster was hungry and would not allow anyone to tell it how to do business. Besides, how could they do business without charging at least $3.75 per $18 ticket? So they retaliated against Pearl Jam by telling all the concert places in the country that they were not to book anything with Pearl Jam. The venues, with exclusive Ticketmaster contracts, locked Pearl Jam out. Further, Ticketmaster had exclusive deals with promoters, so no one would promote the tour. The tour was cancelled.

Anyway . . .

Susan called me about a free Christmas concert by the Fox Theater’s organist and wanted me to get 5 tickets online. One thing great about the Fox is that you can go to their box office at least and avoid Ticketmaster fees. However, to get tickets online you had to go through Ticketmaster. They pointed out that there was a convenience charge of 75 cents per ticket. Also, if you wanted to print the tickets at home, there was a $2.50 charge for that. By the way, the only way to get the tickets is to print them at home. So I go to check out. Seems like the total should be $6.25. But The Evil Ticketmaster wasn’t done. Now that there was a total, they tacked on an order processing fee of $3.15.

Merry Christmas from Satan at The Evil Ticketmaster


Katie is always very interested in squirrels when we go for walks. But they always run behind trees. Then when Katie runs up to the tree, she looks behind it, like the squirrel might still be there. As if by magic, the squirrel has vanished. But, just like Kahn in Star Trek II, Katie doesn’t think in three dimensions and does not realize the squirrel has scampered up the back side of the tree. (Austin, however, is more like Kirk and fully realizes the squirrels are going up where he keeps an eye on them and will bark at them sometimes).

Today on our walk some signs on yellow 8.5×11 paper had been posted along one street saying “DO NOT PARK STREET TO BE PAVED.” About halfway up the street, Katie saw a squirrel which ran behind a tree just like always. And Katie pulled me along to the tree so she could look behind it for the squirrel. Only today, there was the squirrel! And she almost got it in her mouth before it jumped off of the tree trunk and across the street. On the back of the tree a yellow piece of paper had foiled the squirrel’s plan and it wouldn’t try to get past the sign (which blocked most of the back side of the fairly skinny tree). Also, the microprocessor that is a squirrel’s brain somehow prevented it from giving away the trade secret by going to the front of the tree to get around the sign. So it was just stuck until Katie came along.

Good day for streets and Katie. Bad day for squirrels.

4 GB SDHC Card

When I got my Palm TX last year, one of the features I liked was that it would hold up to a 4 gigabyte (GB) SD card. At the time SD cards of that size were about $60 and Fry’s had 2 GB cards for $12. So I wound up buying three 2 GB cards. I put TV shows on one and music on another and would alternate them, listening to music on the way to work while reading the paper and watching TV shows on the way home. I can put 8 30-minute shows on one card and 430 songs on the other (which takes me a couple of months to go through). But if I had one big card I wouldn’t have to swap them out. I never really had much use for the third card. My idea was to put a long playlist on one card and a collection of CD’s on the other card. But since I listen to CD’s in the car, I just listen to the playlist on the Palm. I could put all of this on the nano, I guess, which has 8 GB, but the screen on the nano is much smaller and I would have to change the format of the video files from .avi to .mp4.

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