March 02, 2013

Solution to mini-PCI Express wifi hardware radio off - Tape pin #20

This is one of more weird solutions I have ever "found." I reinstalled the WiFi mini PCI-express card in our Toshiba 230D laptop and found the hardware radio was permanently off. That means I could not connect to any WifI network. I thought that I had a bad card, but the Intel Wifi Link 5300 drivers installed fine, and were properly running. So the laptop and OS "sees" the card but the diagnostics said "radio is off."

I found this thread that claimed to "tape over" pin #20 to force the hardware radio to be on all the time, regardless of what the laptop hardware was telling the card. This makeshift solution, worked like a charm. Not a driver issue, not a BIOS issue, not a Windows issue, but a strange issue with a broken hardware switch in the laptop. The manual "override" was the perfect solution.

Your mileage may vary.


January 29, 2013

New WiFi routers perform admirably, especially the Asus RT-N66U

Do you use WiFi (wireless internet) a lot at home? You may want to check out the new breed of wifi routers which have exceptional performance. While these routers cost about 2 times the existing routers (100-200 dollars), they are most definitely worth it.

For the past decade, WiFi has worked over the same frequency (2.4Ghz) as your cordless phone and many other cordless devices. When there are lots of 2.4Ghz devices in the vicinity of your WiFi router, interference at long distances (more than 10 feet) will step down the speed and stability of your WiFi connection. Your link may waver and even get interrupted. Some routers simply stop responding and restart on their own. In our neighborhood, we have about 15 networks around us competing for "spectrum". The chart below shows our network (A+A+Aa) on channel 8 competing with 13 other networks. Before we upgraded our router the signal (y axis) was just slightly better than everyone else's upstairs. Click on the image below to see what I mean.

Wifi routers spectrum use
Wifi routers spectrum use

New "dual band" routers do something special - they hop to a new spectrum at 5Ghz where no devices seem to tread (yet). Dual band routers allow you to run 2 WiFi networks - one at the old 2.4Ghz band for backward compatibility and one at the new 5Ghz band where there is much less interference. You can even name each network separately and distinguish them. Not all older devices have the necessary radio to pick up a 5Ghz WiFi network, but rest assured that your connection will be superior at 5Ghz.

Many new routers also "follow" your laptops and tablets by beaming their signal to each device. This provides a steadier and stronger signal as well.

I installed the Asus RT-N66U (aka Black Knight) after reading several reviews online which were very positive. Indeed the speed upstairs in our house went up 7 times (from 3Mbps to 20+Mbps). Our effective bandwidth from Bell is 25Mbps/down, so your really want to take advantage of that extra speed. Skype will work much better now anywhere in the house, as will any video streaming. I moved all of our devices over to the new 5Ghz network by simply selecting the new network name and authenticating from each device. My Dell laptop though did not see the 5Ghz network but performs much better even at the 802.11n 2.4Ghz network.

The new Asus router uses a 19V power supply, 7 more volts than my previous DLink DIR 655 router. That's more power, and to be expected for a radio that is more powerful. This router will use more electricity. Unless you have some activity running at night over WiFi, there should be no issues with turning off a router at night using the scheduling software. Just removing the power too could work but you'd have to remember to do this. 

A new WiFi router is a must if you are not getting your advertised bandwidth that you are paying for in all parts of your home. 

Let's say you get 5Mbps. If you do speedtest from your laptop or tablet in the farthest reaches of your home, and you get close to 5Mps AND your connections are stable I wouldn't consider upgrading your router. But if you pay for 10 or 20Mbps and then still get 5 or less then your WiFi router should be upgraded. I'd recommend the Asus. I will know more in 1 month but early indications look positive. 

Asus RT-N66U aka Black Knight
Asus RT-N66U aka Black Knight

December 28, 2012

Hugh Herr - Bionic Man and Nerd Determinism H/T @doctorow

Cory Doctorow was in my ears telling me about something I had felt before but never put into so many words. He was the final guest on Jesse Brown's Search Engine podcast, and I listened carefully as he described his idea of nerd determinism and nerd fatalism.

Don't worry I will get to Hugh Herr soon enough. But first, a reflection on something many geeks and nerds feel in the deep marrow of their bones - technology routes around dumb laws, corrupt politics, rampant corruption. The Internet was built to survive a nuclear war. Packets on the Internet route around router breaks, cable cuts and restrictive policies. Technology, if used properly, disinfects and sheds sunlight on problematic business models, governance models. It makes life better, in general.

So what is "Nerd Determinism" and how does it compare with "Nerd Fatalism"? Cory wrote about this interesting conflict in the way technologists (aka nerds) think about policy and in general their world view.

Techs either think "technology can make us better" or "people become corrupt and will use technology for mostly evil, not good". Nerd Determinism speaks to optimism and Nerd Fatalism falls back to pessimism.

So quoting Cory:

In "nerd determinism," technologists dismiss dangerous and stupid political, legal and regulatory proposals on the grounds that they are technologically infeasible. ... For example, US and EU police agencies demand that network carriers include back-doors for criminal investigations, and geeks snort derisively and say that none of that will work on smart people who use good cryptography in their email and web sessions.


Nerd fatalists hold that the geeky way of doing things – the famed "rough consensus and running code" – have an ideological purity that can't be matched by the old-time notions of deliberation, constitutionalism, and politics. These things are inherently corrupt and corrupting. If you move to Whitehall [England] to defend technology, in a few years, you will be indistinguishable from any other Whitehall wonk, just another corrupted suit who sells out his ideals for realpolitik.

So what does that have to do with Hugh Herr?  Mr. Herr is an associate professor in MIT's Program in Media Arts and Sciences and in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. He is also a double amputee from the knee down. He is a true pioneer in technology helping (disabled) people. He and his team at at MIT are designing bionic legs like these:

image from

These aren't just any prosthetics. They simulate calf muscles with computers. He can control them with a smartphone. And they allow him to play tennis again.

But what happens when politicans and lawyers make them illegal or restrict their use? Or when parents programs their kid's mechatronic limbs so that he or she can't jaywalk with these wonders of science? Or when Paralympians create the next version of Olympics in 2050 and athletes start cutting off their limbs to compete and win? Don't laugh, Herr's research associates half jokingly wanted to ampuate their legs to become competitive with Herr at mountain climbing (!)

Watch Mr Herr at this year's Google Zeitgeist describe the state of his biomechatronic art and his view that in 20 years, the Paralympians will be the premier Olympians, aided by technology. Our road there will likely be very rocky and complex. Witness the controversy around Oscar Pistroius running in the recent Olympics. There will most definitely be winners and losers. And there will be athletes who cut off limbs to be better, as ironic as that may be. Will our children have to deal with the laws and the implications of such technology? Will there be classes for technologically aided children separate from "full human" kids?

But this progress will inevitably happen, I am sure.

Mr Herr said it best when he said: "I'm no longer disabled, with bionics."

ps. Here he is on Flickr with another double-amputee-cum-moviestar-actress Aimee Mullins:

image from

August 28, 2012

Dan Pink's new book is called "To Sell is Human" (video)

It's all about the science of selling. Dan has posted a video online to explain his latest work. The password for the video is "newbook". I hope you take a look and pre-order on Amazon (also on for Candians),, or IndieBound. We'll do a review once we have it in hand.

UPDATE: Nov 14 2012 - Dan Pink has released the book video online on his website. Very very excited to read it!


Randomness and Bell Curves Drive our Lives - John Mighton

Incredible talk by the super-smart John Mighton on how the bell curve drives just about everything in the world. And how we used to be concerned about "deterministic" values in the previous centuries, and now we are much more concerned and interested in "edge cases" and the "abnormal". Steve Jobs said "Think Different" -- indeed. Mighton raises a number of key issues about teacher expectations, assessment, and students' ability to learn. 

This idea is driving password hacking today as well. Listen at 35:00 or so of this podcast called Security Now.


August 27, 2012

The Future of TV is here today - Russian TV on AppleTV

Here's what people are thinking the future AppleTV set top box will be (from Business Insider)

  • Apple wants to make what amounts to a souped-up version of Apple TV that can function as a cable set-top box.
  • You would be able to start any show at any time using a DVR that stores TV shows on the Internet.
  • The TV interface would look like an iPhone or iPad, with icons that users navigate. (Perhaps it looks like the current Apple TV interface with a few more icons?)
  • The new interface is supposed to be better and easier to use than the current cable box interfaces. (A pretty low hurdle to clear.)
  • There would be a way for people to share on Twitter or Facebook what they're watching on TV.
  • Users would be able to get the entire season of a show on demand, as opposed to a few episodes the way cable companies offer now.

Here's the thing -- current jailbroken AppleTV v2 already do this especially when it comes to international TV programming. Using XBMC on AppleTV that has been jailbroken you can get live TV and archived programming. Recent entries have programmed video plugins for XBMC to access foreign TV. I've been using albeit on a monthly subscription fee, and the access is terrific.

 Note that even BestRussianTV service forces you to subscribe to hundreds of channels albet it a more reasonable cost of $20 to $40 per month. The service of course is unprecedented - live TV from over 100 channels, archives of movies and TV shows, Netflix like movie library for Russian movies (and even Hollywood titles, dubbed in Russian).

The direction is clear - give people more access for a much cheaper price point, make up for the difference in the increased bandwidth usage. Or premium features like social sharing and 2nd screen access.

Read more:


August 15, 2012

Coolest Dad Ever Builds a Roller Coaster in Backyard


August 07, 2012

Run your own science experiment - in space - powered by #Arduino

Yeah, in space. These folks have raised over $100,000 on kickstarter to enable people all over the world to run their own science experiements, in space. They will launch an Arduino powered set of sensors on a satellite payload. Then they will collect experiments to be run "open source" style in space. No need for NASA, after all.


July 30, 2012

Why Apple will never make a television set

There is a very simple reason why Apple may never make a television. It turns out that the average upgrade cycle for a TV for the average American family is as much as 10 years or more. The last time people bought a 2nd TV was in the early 2000s, and the time before that was the mid 90s. It takes many years for people to upgrade a 1000 dollar purchase. And unlike an iPhone, a TV set will not be upgraded every 2-3 years. The margins and volume is just not there for Apple.

On the other hand, a solid Apple TV streamer that includes an intelligent over the air antenna that adjusts for the appropriate direction using a GPS and Gyro, that picks up HD signals and loads up a program guide would work well. Coupled with an iPad powered remote control as a way to stream video from apps via airplay, or a unique Apple designed video app that allows easy to access and manage video library could be a really amazing way for people to "upgrade" their DVD library to a modern cloud-based approach to video. A bundled intelligent, OTA AppleTV with an iPad could be the terrific upgrade to those HDTVs that are not "smart". The hardware required to make HDTVs "smart" and Over the Air HD savvy, with no installation and no tweaking could be the perfect way for Apple to enter TV.


No TV set required.

July 26, 2012

Save Hundreds of Dollars by Fixing Your Car's Plastic Bumper Dents and Scrapes

My mother, Mila, G-d lover her, has trouble with parking spots. I probably inherited this bad-parking gene from her, as these parking jams have happened to me as well. In this article I will describe how to fix plastic bumper and fender dents without paying an arm and a leg (at least $300) for what amounts to 1 hour or so worth of your time.

Here's what a typical plastic bumper dent looks like:

image from
This happens when you back into a pole or another car, or some other immovable object. Most repair shops will tell you to replace the bumper - maybe an $800 job. This video shows how you can do the job with out drilling holes, because you have access behind the bumper. But if you are working where you cannot access behind the bumper, or where you'd need to take apart the bumper to fix it, the following procedures may be necessary.

The instructions will show you how to do the job with minimal tools and cost. You can finish the paint and resulting drilled holes much better than we did. Follow this video if you want to see how to professionally finish the job (but you will need more time, equipment, sandpaper and materials to do this right).

1. The materials required for this job are described in the picture below. Most are found around the house (meaning you should not have to buy anything, hopefully)

  • a small hammer
  • a few thin drill bits (less than 1/4")
  • a set of pliers
  • finishing touchup colour you can get from your car dealership for your model and make of car
  • an electric drill
  • silicon filler (or some other plastic bonding filler)
  • a putty knife and regular knife


  • a flowerpot hanger (with a hook at the end) with a threaded point
  • a hot air blow dryer (preferably with leopard print like my Mom has ! :)

Plastic bumper DIY repair kit

2. Use the drill to make very small holes in the deepest part of the depression of each dent. Start here because this is the part you will attempt to pull out. MAKE SURE YOU DON'T DRILL A HOLE LARGER THAN THE HANGER SCREW.

3. Screw in the hanger screw carefully into the hole.

4. Use the hot air blow dryer to soften the plastic bumper around the screw. A good 3-5 minutes should be good.

5. Carefully pull on the hanger and see if you can pull out the bumper. If pulling doesn't work or if the screw pulls out of the hole, put the end of the hook into the drill hole instead, and use it as a "puller".

6. Once you have pulled out the dent, look for other depressions. Drill more holes there and follow steps #3-5 to continue to reshape the bumper.

7. You may find that if you have had your dent for a few months or years, the shape will not fully recover. The reforming should be done as soon as possible as the dent occurs, as plastic tends to reform based on a new shape and "remember" its shape.

8. You may be able to heat up other parts of the bumper, use the hook to pull out the shape, and quickly put a cold, wet cloth over the area to "encourage" the plastic to go back to its original shape. This is plastic, you will have to get creative to ensure the material is reformed by using heat and then cold. This video shows a smaller dent being removed without any screws at all - just a heat gun and compressed air to quickly cool the heated area.

9. The result will look something like the pictures below. Note the holes have not really been finished properly, and could use some good sanding, proper plastic bond and then a finish with spray paint. The key is that the major dents are gone (mostly at least -- it is very hard to remove these dents 100% without replacing the bumper, especially if the dents are a few years old like in the case below. Your mileage may vary!)


Rear bumper After Repair
Rear bumper - 4 attempts to pull out a very deep dent
Left rear fender bumper
Pulled out dents with 2 attempts

UPDATE: Friends are asking why I didn't take "before" and "after" pictures of our Toyota Camry that we fixed. The reason is simple: I really didn't think this would work as well as it did, so I didn't take the "before" picture before it was too late and it was fixed. Should have, I know. And will next time!