Stripped Screw Solution

grabitFor years I’ve been looking for a good screw extractor. So far I’ve had the most success with these: Grabit Screw Removers. While working with several stripped screws (mostly small aluminum and light steel), it removed all but one when used as per directions. I don’t think I’d try removing a screw that has the entire head broken off using these, but they work well for stripped screws.

For comparison, I’ve used Black & Decker and Irwin screw extractors before, but they required much deeper holes to be drilled in the screw, and I rarely if ever managed to remove a screw using them.

Dealing with Spam

I get too much spam. Specifically, my home account gets close to 500 spam messages a day. Normally, I rely on SpamSieve on my Macbook Pro to filter all that noise, and it does a pretty good job (on average 1 spam a day makes it through). But now that I’m also getting my e-mail on my iPhone, SpamSieve is no longer meeting my needs. Since SpamSieve depends on my Mac to be running, and often the Mac is: off, alseep, or just not on the Internet; all that e-mail has been showing up unfiltered on the iPhone.

So this weekend I’ve moved my spam handling back to the server-side. The first step was to starting removing as many bogus connections as possible. To do that I implemented fake MX records, and SMTP transaction delays. Next I started greylisting (using milter-greylist) all incoming e-mail. You can read more about these spam fighting techniques here

The results over the last 24 hours: approx. 10 spam messages were logged in SpamSieve

I plan to start using SpamAssassin again to handle those few messages that still make it through the new server-side spam tools, but life is now much better on the iPhone.

Backup solutions

Since I’ve started running Leopard the backup situation on my computer systems has gotten much better. It’s not just that Apple has created a slam-dunk solution in Time Machine (trust me it rocks). Or even that Time Machine is a complete backup solution (it isn’t). But that Time Machine has inspired me to get all my ducks in a row.

For starters there are two computers I use regularly: my Macbook Pro, and the household server running FreeBSD. Until I installed Time Machine, neither had a consistent (or even existent) backup strategy. In my mind, a backup strategy must handle three situations:

  1. accidental deletions
  2. hardware failure
  3. site disaster

Since installing Leopard, a clear backup strategy has started to evolve, it’s still not complete, but here’s a table listing I’m dealing with the three aspects of backup/recovery on my two main machines.


Laptop Solution

Server Solution
accidental deletion

Time Machine

hardware failure

Carbon Copy Cloner

site disaster



Cheap hard drives makes the first two failures easy to implement solutions for, I spent less than $350 to acquire almost a terabyte of backup disk. Clearly, I’m still looking for a good solution for off-site backups. If anyone is willing to trade bandwidth I’d be interested in using CrashPlan, but I’m open to other suggestions.

How are you handling off-site backups? Leave me a comment and let me know.

MythTV vs. TiVo

I’m hooked on TiVo. If you’ve never used one, I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, the company’s insistence on charging monthly for TV schedule information, means that I turned to other sources when I got an HDTV and wanted TiVo-like features.

Specifically I turned to MythTV (or MythTVHD if you prefer). Being a bit of a do-it-yourself geek, it made total sense. I have plenty of experience with Linux and open-source software. After buying the appropriate hardware, I put together the internals of a MythTV setup. It took some tweaking, but I got the entire system working with over-the-air HD recording last March. I had intended to build a custom case and wireless remote control setup over the summer, but then two things happened.

Zap2It labs cancelled free schedule service for hobbyists (including MythTV users). While I’m sure they had good reasons, but I decided to wait and see what was going to happen with schedule service for MythTV. Then a couple of weeks ago TiVo offered to sell me a brand new TiVoHD unit, and transfer the lifetime service from my old (standard-def) TiVo for a total cost of $498. I pretty much jumped on the offer.

So after 6 months with MythTV, I’m now using a brand spanking new TivoHD box. How do they compare?


  • supports playback of DVDs
  • can rip DVDs to the hard drive
  • unencrypted HD signals only
  • can detect and skip commercials
  • works with whatever size hard drive you install
  • scheduling now costs only $2/month


  • better user interface
  • two tuners built-in
  • supports encrypted HD via 2 cablecard slots
  • can fast-forward through commericals
  • can hack it to work with any hard drive
  • scheduling costs $5-$13/month
  • it just works

Truthfully, it’s that last bit that’s the clincher. It took me days to get the MythTV setup to where I wanted it, it took me no time at all to setup the TiVo. With lifetime schedule service from TiVo, the benefits of MythTV are minimal.

So I think I’m going to punk out, and dismantle my MythTV box. I suppose I could just turn it back into a gaming rig, but I don’t really need one of those anymore…

Frugal Photography

I’ve was thinking aobut putting up a blog devoted to DIY/cheap photographic equipment. It would link to the large number of DIY projects already on the web, and I’d add my own personal thoughts and ideas. I’m not positive it would be much of a resource though. If anyone’s interested in reading such a blog, leave me a comment and I’ll keep considering it.

In the mean time here’s some links to free/DIY type photographic stuff that I’ve found so far:

Free Photo Software:

Adobe Lightroom Beta
Adobe has made a public beta of their soon-to-be released photo workflow program available for free. The Mac version is available now, the Windows version will be available soon.
A free image editting program brought to you by the fine folks at Google. Currently available for Windows and Linux. Downloading Picasa from the following button, earns this site $1 and it costs you nada.
An open-source editting program that mimics the functionality of Adobe Photoshop. GIMP is available for: Linux/Unix, Mac, and Windows, but can be a unwieldy since it uses other open-source tools for display (noteably XFree86).

DIY Projects:

Paper Camera
What could be more DIY than making your own camera out of paper. These guys have put together their own version of the czechoslovakian Dirkon paper camera of the 1970’s
Strobist SSO-CLK
Instructions for putting together a quality, portable flash rig on a budget.
Process your own film and save. DIY and cheaper to boot!
LED Ringlight
There are a lot of ringlight projects out there, this one is more complicated, but the results are pretty professional looking.
Macro Extension Tube
Make macro photos with the lens you already have and $10 in easy to find parts.
Softlight Panel
A light diffusion panel and stand made from PVC
An economical lightbox for product photos
Everything you need for a small DIY photo studio. I like the SSO-CLK from above better, but this might suit some people more.

The CREATE USB Interface

Ok, this looks kick ass. It’s an interface board to allow direct connection of sensors or other electronic inputs via USB (they also have a bluetooth version) without the need for custom device drivers.

This is totally cool. I wish these had been around when I was a kid, I might have wrecked fewer controllers/computers/stuff. I’m going to want one of these, or maybe I’ll go ahead and build my own (yeah right, like I even have the time to use the thing). I should add that it’s a steal at $50, pre-built.

Update: Mine is now on order.

Setting up a small darkroom

Justin Ouellette from has very cool directions for setting up a minimal darkroom (negatives only) in your bathroom. I did this for a while in my old apartment, and it was a great way to save on black and white developing, as well as being a good segue into a full darkroom. I would add a couple of things to his article though.

First, a changing bag means that an absolutely dark room isn’t as important. The room should be dark, but I’ve loaded negatives in a normal room at night and not had problems when using a changing bag. They’re a bit of a hassle, but if your bathroom has a window, this is a good alternative.

Next, I like liquid concentrate developer since it lasts longer between uses. The problem with most dry chemicals is that you have to use them pretty soon after mixing (a month or two). Liquid concentrate developers tend to be more stable and they can sit for 6-18 months between uses. Right now I use, Edwal FG7 Developer, but it can be hard to measure for small amounts of use.

I would also argue that there is one meaningful difference between steel and plastic reels. If you need to do two or more batches in a row, steel reels are much easier to load while wet. I used plastic for years, and until I was told this, I never understood why I’d sometimes have problems with the plastic reels. Sure enough, when my (Paterson) plastic reels were wet, they were really hard to load. I switched to steel (also my steel tanks leak less, but thats not so important), and I can reliably load them wet or dry.