It’s Time to Find a New Printer Vendor (Shame on you HP!)

I came across this interesting article over at the Wired web site this week. Seems like HP does not like customers who buy their printers to use non-HP ink cartridges. HP has modified the firmware in their OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X printers to reject any ink cartridge that is not theirs. Essentially they have DRM’d these printers.

It is one thing to know this going in when you bought the printer; but to lock down the device after you purchase it, is evil. For example, if I walked in, say a BestBuy, and was interested in buying a new printer, and the sales guy says, “Remember, if you buy this HP printer, you can only use genuine HP printer cartridges.” Knowing this in advance, I can make an informed decision if I am OK with this “limitation.” If not, I buy something else.

This is not what happened here.

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When it Doesn’t Work – Sometimes it’s Painful

As you well know, the theme of this blog is: “It is works out of the box – what fun is that?” Ol’ Sopwith loves it when things don’t work! That means you have to fix it. Fun!

Today was one of those days when “fixing it” was not fun.

I run a backup server that takes care of all my backup chores. Had it running for years. On all my computers, I run an rsync backup script that backs up everything to this server. The server has a pair of hot-swap SATA drives that get rotated to a fire safe on a regular basis. This setup has served me well.

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Excellent Customer Service

Now that I have had a couple of days to use my shiny new Dell XPS-13 (see Part-1 and Part-2), I realized that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS was taking a long time to shutdown. When the shutdown shutdown screen appeared, I hit the <Esc> key to watch the shutdown sequence. It was hanging on several shutdown tasks.

Lots of Googling determined this is a well know issue going back several Ubuntu releases. In one post, it was mentioned that the issue was caused by the Private Internet Access (PIA) client. It just so happens that Sopwith uses this great tool. I have had an account with them for about a year. When my Dell XPS-13 boots, PIA automatically connects to the nearest access location and gives me VPN privacy at all times. I use it on Mrs. Sopwith’s Windows box, and several of my Android phones. It just works.

I disabled the client, rebooted, and then shutdown the laptop. It shut down within a few seconds. Bingo – maybe the PIA client was not accepting the shutdown request.

Even though this problem was annoying – it was not a big deal to me. But just for the heck of it, I decided to submit a technical support issue to PIA so they were aware this might be an issue.

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Dell XPS-13 Laptop (Part-1)

O’l Sopwith finally decided it was time to purchase a new laptop. My personal laptops usually last 4-5 years before I part with them. In the past, I have owned Dell’s, Toshiba’s, and even an Azus. Most of my corporate provided units came from Dell, HP, or Lenovo. Sorry Apple freaks, Sopwith is not a fan – so a Mac is not in my future.

For a long time, I have had my eyes on the Dell XPS-13. In my humble view this is the finest laptop on the planet. You can read about it here:
http://www.dell.com/us/p/xps-13-9350-laptop/pd?ref=PD_OC

dell-xps13

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Raspberry Pi Zero Released

On November 26, 2015, Eben Upton and his engineering team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the release of another member of the Pi family – Pi Zero. As far as I know, this is the first usable computer that runs Linux and costs $5 USD. This is an amazing accomplishment.

RaspberryPi-ZeroRather than blog out all of the technical details, I suggest you download the latest issue of the MagPi. This is one of my favorite magazines, and the 40th issue is one of the best ever. It contains everything you need to know about the new Pi.

Cynics may argue that this Pi really does not qualify as a $5 computer since you need to invest in a couple of special cables to make is useful. Also, you need to solder in a pin header if you want to use the IO capabilities. So what? This is just another proof of Sopwith’s theorem – “If it works out of the box – what fun is that?”

The fact anyone can purchase a computer with this power at a $5 price point says it all. I suspect this device will be more popular with hackers and makers than with schools, but this remains to be seen.

Eben posted a video explaining the reasoning behind building a $5 computer.  I am struck by his passion and dedication to the education of young people. His humbleness is striking.

Sopwith

Take back your TV

After a year of living in London, Mrs. Sopwith and I are now back in our USA home in the Los Angeles area. Our life in the US is more complicated than life in the UK. In London, we rented a small flat and used public transportation to get around. Life was so simple.

Here is California, we have cars, a big house and lawn to maintain, insurance, taxes, utilities, and all the other headaches of living in the Western US. One of my biggest gripes about life in the US is the cost of mobile telephones and television. Ol’ Sopwith does not like to complain, but I have a strong belief that many companies in the US are committed to ripping off the unwary public.

Take DirecTV for example. I have been a customer for 15 years. Five years ago, I upgraded my satellite dish and receivers to the digital package. My monthly bill is $110 USD for TV  programming without movie packages or any other add-ons. To me, this is a lot of money. When I looked at my bill recently, I discovered they were charging me $26 in junk fees every month. I usually smell smoke when I wire up my electronic projects wrong; in this case I smell smoke from a greed driven satellite provider.

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“Yes – something so fun can be really useful”

About a year ago I posted a ‘How-To‘ document describing how to connect an AM2315 temperature sensor to a Pi. I received many emails and many people posted responses to my blog entry.

One of the most interesting emails I received was from Dr. Michael Glenn, Plant Physiologist and Director of Research, at the US Department of Agriculture. Dr. Glenn was trying to solve a problem.

As we all know, global warming is an important topic today. Regardless of your personal views on the subject, the only way we will ever know the true facts about the impact of a warmer earth is to study it. Dr. Glenn and his research team do just that.

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Velleman FM Radio Kit

Being far from home and living in London is very interesting. As a hacker, maker,  and hobbyist from the US, a Radio Shack or an order from Mouser, Adafruit, etc is taken for granted. Things are different here.

There is not a Radio Shack nearby. The nearest equivalent is Maplin and these stores are everywhere. Every time I walk by one – I ‘pop in’ as they say here.

Last Saturday I ‘popped in’ to one and found a very interesting electronic kit. The Velleman Digitally Controlled FM Radio (MK194). Velleman is a Belgium based company that makes all kind of neat stuff. The kit was on sale for £12. How could I resist?

This kit is about as close as you can get to re-living the good-ole’ days of Heathkits. In the 60’s and 70’s Heathkits were all the rave among us geeks. I built a digital alarm clock that worked for more than 25 years. What is the big deal? Well, I was 14 years old when I built this clock. And it served as my alarm clock until I was 39. Every day – it was there. The power supply finally failed and its service ended.That my friends, is the definition of loyalty. Hand built and reliable.

Anyone that ever built a Heathkit remembers the yellow assembly manuals. They are legendary for their quality. Oh the joy of a Heathkit!

Heathkit Digital Clock

Heathkit Digital Clock

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Hacking the Tastic RFID Tool

In my recent posts I hacked a BV4618 LCD to prepare it for use in my Tastic RFID project. Now that I have the BV4618 working and an improved and simple code library (sopBV4618_S), we return to the Tastic tool. If you are not familiar with the Bishop Fox Tastic project you can read about it here.

Ol’ Sopwith again wants to make it clear that I am not interested in the dark-side of RFID hacking. Nor do I encourage anyone to do so. The goal of this project is to learn about RFID and how it all works. Fascinating stuff.

After researching the Tastic RFID documentation I ordered three PCB’s using the Tastic project PCB documents. The vendor I used was OSH Park. Highly recommended outfit that does great work.

Tastic PCB

Tastic PCB

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