What To Do With An Old Computer

old computer

I’ve been working as a computer programmer or part of the IT department for about 23 years now. And as you can guess, I’ve had a few computers over the years. It seems like every few years you need a new one. So I’m often asking myself what to do with an old computer? Well here’s what I did last weekend.

The weather in NJ is warming up and it’s time to convert my garage from storage mode (where you can’t walk in it) to workshop mode. I’ll be putting the overwintered banana trees back in the ground and the patio furniture can go back outside too. What a luxury to be able to build something inside the garage again. At some point I’ll get a decent shed to store this winter stuff but that  didn’t happen last fall.

What is Peppermint?
What is Peppermint?

Continue reading “What To Do With An Old Computer”

You Can Make Your Own Smartphone Speaker

Smartphone

You may have noticed that the popularity of smartphones has led to an explosion in the home speaker industry. That’s not to say home speakers weren’t popular before. But 15 years ago the very idea of a “home speaker” would have made you think either of a boom box or a bulky surround sound system attached to your television or CD player. Now, a home speaker can be the size of a cucumber (or larger), and can pair with your phone to provide sound that easily fills a room or an entire home.

In some cases, such as with the Beats Pill or Bose SoundLink Mini, these Bluetooth speakers are portable, relatively small and still able to provide strong sound. In others, like the Sonos Playbase, a wireless speaker can sound like a home theater in a box. There’s a lot of variety and plenty of excellent sound to be enjoyed.
Smartphone
Another reason this trend has emerged is that we’re not using our mobile phone speakers for just the occasional playlist. We’re also streaming content, and even playing games with robust audio tracks that are more fun on quality speakers. Indie mobile games are often praised for visual and audio quality, and the popular casino gaming industry has started to make use of characters and stories from pop culture in its game design. And that means there are often fun musical themes. These games, as well as all our favorite streaming shows and movies, all sound better on high quality speakers.

That said, Bluetooth has also gotten us into some unnecessary habits. Streaming content or playing a game is one thing, but if you do just happen to be listening to a playlist (or a podcast, for that matter) at home, you’re usually fine leaving your phone in one place and wandering about. And expensive Bluetooth options can be unnecessary for this. As an alternative, you can actually make your own wireless smartphone speakers out of wood and enjoy surprisingly good sound quality.

All it takes, in addition to basic tools and wood glue, is three identical slabs of wood, preferably 10-12 inches long and about six inches tall. You can find specific measurement recommendations and thorough instructions online, but the basic idea is simple. The first board makes the base and you’ll leave it as is. The second is the front and you’ll cut it in three places: once in the center at the top, and once on each side. The top cut is essentially an indentation where you will set your phone; the side cuts are circles that function as speakers. In the final board you will cut an outline made to fit along the perimeter edges of the second board (with a small hole allowed in the portion under the center cut—this is where your phone’s speakers will be situated). Then you’re all done! The perimeter outline is attached in between the base and front boards to provide a sea
led interior where the sound can be trapped and amplified.

It’s not as functional as a Bluetooth speaker when it comes to movies and games (because you need to dock your phone). But when it comes to a strong home audio experience, you may be shocked at how much this frugal, DIY solution can do for you.

Best Camera for Blogging

Canon EOS-M front

I have a confession to make. Up until now, all the pictures on this blog have been taken with an iPhone camera. I have been dying to buy a DSLR for years now but it’s just not in the budget. I did buy a used Canon EOS-M recently and this post will explain why I think it’s the best camera for blogging.

When I was a cutting edge garden blogger (around 2005) I had a Sony Mavica with those Mini-CDs for storage. This was way before SD cards and I think it was only about 3 mega pixels. But it had a Carl Zeiss lens and it kicked ass for the early 2000s. Eventually it stopped working and other cameras caught up and surpassed the quality so I’ve been using an iPhone for blogging for the past few years. There’s this saying that the best camera is the one that you have on you. And what I have had on me for the past few years is an iPhone.

Canon EOS-M
Canon EOS-M (body only)

Now all this time that I’ve been blogging, I’ve been trying to get the absolute best photos that I can with the gear that I have. I’ve used natural lighting whenever possible which means taking my foods and drinks and DIY Projects outside to shoot them. I’ve also built a DIY light box for when it’s raining or too cold outside. I light it up with clip on shop lights from Home Depot and I use poster paper or fabric remnants for backdrops. I also will try any tips or tweaks that I see on Pinterest or Photography discussion groups to get the best shot possible. Sometimes it works great, other times not so much. Browse my blog photos and you’ll see what I’m talking about.



Recently I figured out a way to get the best camera for blogging for me and for the least amount of money possible. I got the Canon EOS-M. It’s one of those small mirrorless cameras that uses interchangeable Canon lenses. That’s perfect for me because I can start out with a basic lens and then eventually get others for more specific uses like macro or zoom. And if I can someday get a DSLR then I’ll still be able to use those lenses.

Now you’re probably saying, isn’t that model a few years old?  Yes it is. There are now M3s, M5s and the M10 too. They are all a newer version of the one that I got. But I was able to get my EOS-M used on Amazon for less that $200 (body only). You can probably do even better with eBay or Craigslist but I wanted to cash in an Amazon Gift Card. Yes, I really broke the piggy bank for this purchase.

I did my research before buying this camera and all the old reviews that I found said that the camera had a focusing problem and should be avoided. That doesn’t sound very positive but hear me out. When I found more recent reviews that showed up further down in the search results (use date ranges in your Google searches, they work great) they mentioned that the focusing issue was solved with a firmware update. Good news! Most people don’t know how to update firmware or look past those original reviews and so the camera is being sold at great prices now.

Another thing I did was buy the international version on Amazon. It was cheaper and in this case it was the same camera with the same charger but it just showed up with the default language set to Spanish.

I also bought the EF-M 18-55mm lens used for about $100. This will be my only lens for now but in the future with the help of an adapter, I can use any of the EF-S Lenses. There’s tons of them out there being sold used. And since this camera is mirrorless, I can also use the older FD lenses which don’t work with DSLRs and are dirt cheap. I’ll need another adapter for the FD lens but it’s worth it when you can pick up a great manual focus zoom lens for like $40.

One last thing that I want to mention is that I plan on updating the camera OS to Magic Lantern. Magic Lantern is a free firmware add-on that gives you more features than the ones Canon included. It’s most well known for adding video features like microphone monitoring and screen overlays but there’s good stuff for photography too. It’s another piece of my plan to get the best camera for blogging on a very tight budget.

And so in review, I bought a used camera that was reviewed poorly and I’m very happy about it. I think that the Canon EOS-M will be the best camera for blogging that I could buy. If you have an extra $500-$1000 laying around, go ahead and buy yourself a Canon T5i or an Canon 80D. But for $250, me and my Canon EOS-M are in the game.

Best Apps for Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Getting an Amazon Fire TV Stick is a no brainer of a decision. You can watch TV and movies from all of the main streaming services. There are also a wide variety of casual games that can be downloaded. But this post isn’t about games, it’s about saying goodbye to cable TV. And here are the Best Apps for Amazon Fire TV Stick when it comes to cutting the cord.
Amazon Fire TV Stick

We recently cut the cord in our house. When our two year FIOS contract was up, Verizon wanted to raise the bill by $30/month for the same services. That didn’t sound like a good deal to me so I canceled it. Then I went to our local cable company (Optimum Online) and signed up for internet only service. And let me say that It really hasn’t been that big of an adjustment.

We were already used to watching shows on the Netflix App and also from Amazon Prime video because there was an Amazon Fire TV Stick on almost all of our TVs. If fact my teen kids never really even watch regular TV anymore. There’s always something like Glee or Lost playing in the background while they’re doing their teen things like social media and chatting.



Now if you don’t have Amazon Prime and you have an Amazon Fire TV Stick, then that really wasn’t a smart move. Even if you download every one of the best apps for Amazon Fire Stick TV you’ll still be missing out. In fact, let me say that everyone should have Amazon Prime. As long as you buy a few things every year from Amazon it pays for itself in shipping costs. But there’s also other things included like Prime Video, Prime Reading, Prime Music, unlimited storage with Prime Photos and there’s other things too. Definitely get it if you don’t have it. Now with that out of the way, let me recommend what I think are the best apps for Amazon Fire TV Stick.

 

Best Apps for Amazon Fire TV Stick

Netflix - Best Apps for Amazon Fire TV Stick

Netflix – $9.99/month (two screens)
The Netflix app is definitely a must have for everyone who’s cut the cord. Netflix has the movies and TV shows that you’ll want to watch. And their original content is some of the best entertainment out there. Stranger Things, Daredevil, Orange is the New Black and Bloodline are huge hits. Just take a look at the winners of the Golden Globes or Emmys. Netflix shows are kicking butt.

Hulu - Best Apps for Amazon Fire TV Stick

Hulu – $7.99/month
My wife is a big fan of the Shondaland shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder) and the Chicago shows (Chicago PD, Fire & Med) so I signed up for Hulu. The shows are available 1 day after they air on TV and that’s fine because we haven’t watched live TV in years. Hulu also creates original shows and lots of them become the most buzzed about content out there. Shut Eye starring Jeffrey Donavan impressed my wife and I so much that we binged it in two days.

Free Apps

CW – Free
I’m a big fan of superhero shows and The CW has The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl & Legends of Tomorrow. The CW was smart enough to offer all of their content for free over the internet so not only am I a fan of their shows but I’m also impressed by their insight into the future of TV. Other networks have apps but you have to log in to them with your cable company account in order to watch the shows. The network executives must know that’s lame and short sighted.

YouTube – Free
YouTube has just become a part of our lives. No matter what you’re trying to do, there’s a video out on YouTube with someone teaching you how to do it. I just installed a shower head in our bathroom and I didn’t hire a plumber or read the instructions that came with it. I just watched a YouTube video. But how to videos aren’t all that YouTube has. There’s tons of entertaining channels out there.

CBS News – Free
CBS News has news running on this channel 24/7. Sometimes you need to see what’s going on in the world and this is a great place for that. There’s a live-ish fee and also the clips of the top stories.

ABC News (New York – Local News & Weather) – Free
ABC News is almost as good as CBS News but the content seems to be a little older. So if you like watching yesterday’s news, then try this out. I like ABC News for it’s local NY/NJ news.

Pokemon Go Tips

Pokemon go

Hey I’m going to try something new on GoodStuffAtHome and on my YouTube Channel from now on. I post about several different topics (Food, Drink, Gardening, DIY & Tech) instead of focusing on a small niche. Everyone says that you should focus on a niche and you shouldn’t try to cover too many things.  It’s bad for building readership and it’s bad for SEO. Well, to me, my site is all about making things. I like to make good stuff. Whether its in the kitchen or the garage or out in the garden, it’s all good stuff to me.

My new idea is to spend each week linking these different categories together with a common theme. People like things that come in weeks, like Shark Week, Fleet Week and Fashion Week. So I’m going to start theming my weeks too. For example if I was doing Blueberry Week, I could post a blueberry pie recipe in the Food category, a how to grow blueberry bushes in the gardening category, build a bird netting fence to protect the blueberries for the DIY category and so on. I may not cover all all the categories each week but I want to give this a shot.

Pokemon Go Squirtle

So how could this week be anything other than Pokemon Week? Pokemon Go came out 4 days ago and it’s taking the world by storm. Today’s post is going in the Tech category so I’ll share some Pokemon Go tips that I’ve learning by playing over the weekend.

The first tip is to switch to Low Power Mode. Using the GPS, while maintaining a good cellular connection uses so much battery that you phone might even get very hot. There’s a park near my house with a walking path that goes around a lake. It also has lots of benches that have those memorial plaques on them that say things like, “In memory of the <so and so> family”. Each bench is a Pokestop. So my kids and I go there and walk around the lake and hit all the Pokestops, spin them and collect the goods. Yesterday we did three laps (about a mile) and my iPhone 6 Plus went from 100% to about 40%. Both my kids have iPhone 6 and both were completely dead.
Pokemon Go Psyduck
To turn on low power mode and make your battery last longer, tap the Pokeball, then tap the gear in the top right that says “Settings”. You want to make sure the battery saver option has a check mark next to it.

Pokemon Go Battery Saver
Make sure Battery Saver is checked

Second tip is to bring an extra battery. If you have an Android phone with a replaceable battery that’s pretty easy. But iPhone users are out of luck with that so bring one of those battery cases or an external battery. With extra power you can catch even more Pokemon.

Third tip is to catch every Pokemon you see and then send any duplicates back to Professor Willow. When you do so you get a piece of candy that you can use to Power Up or Evolve your Pokemon. But wait until you get back home for this. When you’re out and about, you should be looking for Pokemon. The transfer button is below the Power Up & Evolve buttons. Scroll down and you’ll see it.

Pokemon Go Transfer
I’ll trade you one Pokemon for 1 candy

And the last tip is not to ignore any of the sad looking Magikarps that you find. I know they look like a joke to people who never watched the cartoon but you definitely want to catch them all. And then when you have 400 Magikarp Candies saved up you can Evolve it into Gyarados. And Gyarados is no joke. I only have 21 candies right now but I’ll keep walking around that lake until I get there.

Pokemon Go Magikarp

So come back tomorrow or Wednesday and Pokemon week will continue. I have a few ideas for Pokemon cocktails, food and woodworking project. I’m hoping that I can get it all of these posts created and do a YouTube Video also.

Skullcandy Hesh Review

Skullcandy Hesh Headphones
Skullcandy Hesh Headphones
Skullcandy Hesh 2 Headphones

Skullcandy Hesh Review

I’m the father of an 11 year old music lover and I’m pissed at Dr Dre and my sister. You see, Dr Dre came out with these really great, high performance headphones called Beatsand then my sister went ahead and bought a pair for her son. Now they are both my mortal enemies.

I’m mad at my sister because she totally killed the one excuse that I was giving my son for not getting him a pair. Whenever he asked I would always say, “Those Dr Dre Beats are too expensive!” Then one day, my son had the snappy comeback, “Aunt Nicole bought a pair for Noah.” Crap! Now my excuse was down the drain because his cousin had a pair. This is how Ronald Reagan must have felt when Russia kept building more nukes. My credit cards was on a path to mutually assured destruction. Truthfully, I really don’t think that 11 year olds should have $200 headphones. My nephew is older but that still sounds crazy to me.

So I went on a mission to find a suitable pair of headphones for much less money. My wife tried the Five Below route with little success. We burnt through two pairs of those that were thankfully only $5 each. The first pair got sucked up into the vacuum cleaner and had to be replaced. The replacement pair just stopped working. They just weren’t built durable enough for an 11 year old. Can you imagine if I saw the $200 Dr Dre Beats on the floor getting vacuumed up? Proves my point that 11 year olds leave things on the floor and shouldn’t have $200 headphones.




I looked at what was available and read all the reviews. Then I settled on a $50 budget. In that price range the best bang for the buck was the Skullcandy Hesh 2 Headphones, Gray/Black/Lime. They have a nice solid feel to them and they’re available in lots of different colors too. I liked the detachable cord feature and hopefully the cord will stay out of the vacuum cleaner. But you buy headphones for the sound and I was not disappointed in the sound. Excellent base and the highs were crisp and clear. Obviously they didn’t sound as good as the Dr Dre Beats but they were surprisingly close.

The Skullcandy Hesh Headphones sell for around $50, I could buy a set of headphones for everyone in the family instead of one of those Dr Dre Beats. And by the way, if my daughter is reading this, everyone in the family is not getting a pair.

With the research completed, the next thing I know, the Skullcandy S6HSFZ-319 Hesh 2 Headphones are in my Amazon shopping cart. My son decided on the Gray/Black/Lime because he must be color blind. But Gray/Black/Lime actually matches a lot of his equally color offensive clothes so it was probably a good choice.




Another suburban Dad crisis has been averted. My son now has great headphones that are both stylish and sound great. And we didn’t break the bank to get them. I guess I can forgive my sister now but Dr Dre is still in the doghouse.

Here’s the feature list from Amazon

Skullcandy S6HSFZ-319 Hesh 2 Headphones

  • Experience the music the way it was meant to be heard
  • Unparalleled comfort during encore playlists
  • Eliminate cable tangle, increase longevity and customize your look
  • Headphone rests comfortably over your ear creating a perfect seal