A shout-out to Netgear for the FS105. Those little switches were BULLETPROOF. It was a beautifully functional steel chassis that people could (and did) walk on. You could drop them on concrete floors, or forget they were there and yank a network cable and slam them into a wall. I had one client where I found an FS105 under a pile of fabric that, as far as anyone knew, hadn’t been touched in years. They just wouldn’t die.
They were just built… ya know? We sent almost 650 of those things to clients at one job, and I think we got 1 back as a DOA. There’s no telling how many hundreds of thousands of these are stuck behind bookcases and filing cabinets in offices worldwide, still silently doing their jobs 15 years later. Hell, I noticed that my county’s voting setup still uses FS105s. And why wouldn’t they? If there was ever a device that’ll genuinely work forever, the FS105 beats even some of those late 1990s HP laser printers, or some of those old HP JetDirect boxes.
They’re the Voyager space probes of small office networking.
I still proudly use their successors – a 5-port (GS305) and an 8-port (GS308) gigabit switch – on my home network today.
Did you know that Windows 10 has a multi-clip clipboard built in?
Most people know you can press CTRL+C to copy text and CTRL+V to paste that text. But in most versions of Windows 10 you can press WINDOWS+V to get a list of all the stuff you’ve copied in a session (the time between reboots or shutdowns):
This is super-handy when you need to copy multiple bits of text. For instance, imagine needing to copy an address from a web page, but need to copy it individual blocks: name, street address, city, zip. Instead of flipping back and forth between the webpage and whatever you’re pasting into, you can copy them all then use WIN+V to paste the right text in the right place. That’s neat!
To use this, you must be on Windows 10’s October 2018 Update (1809) or higher. Go to Settings > System > Clipboard and enable the “Clipboard History” option. If you like, you can also enable the “sync across devices” option for having a unified clipboard between your desktop and laptop computers, or click the “Clear clipboard data” to flush the cache completely (you can click the three dots on any individual entry to delete just that one, if you prefer):
By default, Windows 10 only displays the hour and minute in the taskbar clock. This is good enough for most people most of the time… but if you’re doing something time-sensitive – like trying to buy concert tickets or rare records on Virtual Record Store Day – you might need to know the time down to the EXACT SECOND.
For years I’ve used an app called TimeSync to synchronize my various computers. Some computers just don’t keep time that well, and other times you might want to sync the computer more often than Windows’ once a week default. Because TimeSync shows seconds – and because I already had it downloaded on my computer – I just used that:
But did you know that you can configure Windows 10 to display seconds in the taskbar clock?
Right-click on the “Advanced” key in the left pane and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name the key ShowSecondsInSystemClock and press ENTER. Lastly, double-click the entry you just created and give it the value of 1. You’ll need to reboot or sign out and in for the change to go into effect.
You can undo this in the future by deleting the ShowSecondsInSystemClock key, or you can set its value to 0.
BandsInTown is a service that tracks bands on tour. You download the app for iOS or Android, sign up, then enter a list of bands you want to track (or give the site permission to scan your Spotify or Apple Music\iTunes libraries). That’s it! You’ll get notifications (and emails, if you choose) any time a band you like is playing a venue near you!
There’s one problem with the service, though, and that’s that you can only choose one “home city”. The concert scene in Charlotte has come a long way in the past 20 years, but if your music tastes could be described as “cutting edge” or “up and coming”, you may find yourself driving to Atlanta or Chapel Hill more often than you’d care to admit. So you can switch your BandsInTown home city to Atlanta… but then you miss out on local shows. What to do if you’re in a situation like this?
While BandsInTown only allows you to have one home city, the app will allow you to expand your search radius to 150 miles. So in my case, I chose Greenville, SC as my home city and expanded the search radius to the max 150 miles. This way it covers Charlotte, Atlanta, Athens and Asheville:
For years, most home and SOHO routers kept 2.4 and 5 GHz networks separate. In fact, you can probably open the Wi-Fi settings on your phone right now and see SSIDs like “Pretty Fly for a WiFi 2G” and “Pretty Fly for a WiFi 5G”.
I recently moved to a new house. Although I hadn’t planned on creating a “smart home”, I kind of did. See, I already owned a couple Google Home Mini speakers when my missus told me that she wanted some kind of “digital” thermostat at the new house. Right on cue, our power company sent us an offer for a Nest thermostat, along with another Google Home Mini and a GE Smart Bulb, for a very reasonable price. So we took them up on the offer, and now had a Nest and several Home Minis.
Due to the layout of my new office – that is, the furniture and power outlets within – the best option for me, lightwise, was to put a lamp on top of a tall bookcase. But it would have been a pain for me to reach up to turn the light on and off, and my missus would have to get a step ladder every time she wanted to turn the light on or off. No worries – we have that smart bulb Duke Energy sent us, right? I can just put the lamp on top of the bookcase then say “Hey Google, turn the lamp on”, yeah?
I could. But the light put out by the “C by GE” bulb is ugly. I’ve always preferred daylight bulbs over traditional “soft white” bulbs, but the “C by GE” light looked more like an interstate rest stop sodium vapor bulb than soft white light. So off to Amazon to buy some new bulbs, and when that failed, off to Home Depot… which almost failed, too.
Why the failure? Well, most modern routers – especiallymesh routers – treat 2.4 and 5 GHz bands as the same. My network has both, but only has one SSID, and most devices can automagically switch from 2.4 and 5 GHz, whichever is the best fit at that moment. My Roku TV, for example, typically uses 5 GHz because it needs the bandwidth when we watch The Crown or Jack Ryan in UHD. My phone defaults to 5 GHz, but might switch to 2.4 GHz when I’m out in the yard because 5 GHz won’t travel that far, and 2.4 GHz is better than zero GHz.
Here, at last, is the problem this whole post addresses: it seems like all – or almost all – smart bulbs are 2.4 GHz only. This makes sense, because 2.4 GHz is better at penetrating walls and appliances, and such devices only send small bits of data occasionally. But guess what? Neither the LOHAS bulbs I ordered from Amazon nor the Philips bulb I bought at Home Depot would connect to my mesh network.
One option would have been to go to the router’s settings and have it separate the Wi-Fi signals into discrete 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. You know, the traditional “My WiFi 2G” and “My WiFi 5G” situation. And when I did that, it worked. But I didn’t want separate bands. It’s almost 2020!
So… what to do? Well, I had an old TP-Link range extender – model TL-WA855RE – lying around. Fortunately, the range extender can connect to the mesh network, despite being 2.4 GHz only. And since it’s only 2.4 GHz, the smart bulb can connect to it… and, by extension, the rest of my network.
Setting it up is pretty straightforward:
– If your smart bulb and\or extender requires an app, go ahead and install them from your app store before doing anything else.
– I reset the extender to its default settings, then logged in to its Wi-Fi network with my phone. I believe the SSID is just the model number: “TL-WA855RE”.
– I then used the extender’s app to connect and initiate the setup process. This is basically just “let it scan for networks, then login to the target network”. Keep all other settings at default, unless you want to: a) use a more complex password for this extended network (which I did); b) hide the new SSID (which I didn’t, because the password I gave the extended network looks like I smashed my fist on the keyboard); and c) this extender also has a “power level” setting which I turned to LOW, because I only need to broadcast the signal a few feet. ‘Cos the neighbors can’t steal your Wi-Fi if the signal never reaches them!
– By default, the new network will have the same SSID as the “mother network”, but with “_EXT” added to the end. So: “My Wi-Fi_EXT”. I logged in to the “_EXT” network on my phone and went through the setup wizard for the WiZ software I had to download for the Philips bulb. The WiZ software inherits the Wi-Fi settings from your phone and sends them to the bulb, which is why you have to do this step.
– Once the WiZ setup was complete, I switched my phone back to the regular Wi-Fi network and added the WiZ service to Google Home. That way I can say “Hey Google, turn on the lamp”.
– Finally, just to be safe, I reserved the internal IP addresses of both the extender and the bulb. That way, now that it’s working, there’s no reason it won’t keep working.
So… if you find yourself in a similar situation, you can buy the same model extender from Amazon here for $14.99, or Netgear’s EX2700 2.4 GHz extender here for $24.99.
As you probably know, the Internet works because of something called DNS. Computers only communicate via a numerical IP address, like 184.108.40.206. People are, of course, terrible with numbers. DNS acts as the Internet’s phone book, translating human-friendly domain names like “google.com” into the IP address your computer needs to connect to a site.
While domain names have been around longer than you might think, the idea really isn’t new, though. When telegraphs were the thing, a company, person or organization could set up a telegraphic address. Like a domain name, people could address telegraphs to FORD or STDOIL and they’d be passed down the telegraph lines until someone who knew the actual address sent it to its final destination. Just like domain names and trademarks, telegraphic addresses were a valuable property, and were fought over when companies split up. Competitors even bought addresses similar to legit ones, like COKECOLA or COCOCOLA.
A few companies and organizations are named for the previous telegraphic address.
Interflora rose to fame by using telegraphic (later, telephone) lines to send flower arrangements anywhere in the country. In the pre-Internet days, if your uncle on the other side of the country died, it was difficult to find a florist on in that area on your own. Instead you’d send the order from a local florist via Interflora, who’d telegraph an in-network florist near your uncle’s funeral home… for a cut of the money, of course. Which is kind of a good example of how this whole system worked.
Interpol, the international crime-fighting agency founded in Vienna in 1923, was originally known as the International Criminal Police Commission. It later changed its name to its telegraphic address. So if you wanted to squeal on someone, you just send a telegram to INTERPOL.
Oxfam, a charity founded at Oxford University, but with independent branches all over the world, was founded as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in 1942, initially to help fight the famine in Greece due to its Axis occupation and the Allies’ retaliatory blockade during the war. OXFAM was, of course, it’s telegraphic address.
So… back in June Spotify released a new version of their Android software. At first glace, it didn’t look so bad – mostly a huge PODCASTS tab added to the “My Library” page. Which makes sense: Spotify is pushing podcasts hard because they don’t have to pay royalties when you listen to them like they do with music.
Come to find out, it was way worse than that.
A quick refresher: in Spotify when you “save” an album to your library, you’re basically just saving a link to the music files on Spotify’s servers, like a browser bookmark. And Spotify’s Android app used to have a “My Library” page which had tabs for “Artists”, “Albums” and “Songs”. So if you saved 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe album to your library, “10,000 Maniacs” would then appear under “Artists”, In My Tribe would appear under “Albums”, and the songs from that album would appear under “Songs”. If you deleted the album, those entries went away. Simple, yes?
Spotify also has a “follow artist” feature. When I first joined the service in 2015, following an artist was how you got notifications that they had released new music. But Spotify’s notification system never worked that well, so they removed most of it. But they kept the “follow artist” feature, which folks in the Spotify Community said was for “shaping” the music in Spotify’s playlists. If the artists in your Discover Weekly or Release Radar playlists weren’t to your liking, follow a bunch of your favorite artists, they said, and your playlists would get better. And that seemed to be true.
So – here’s what Spotify’s June update changed:
– The “Artists” tab now only shows artists you follow. So if you add 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe to your library now, 10,000 Maniacs no longer appears under “Artists” unless you specifically tapped the “Follow” (or “Heart” icon), too. It’s effectively as if your iTunes install from 2008 suddenly lost the ability to sort music by artist, as if artist information was completely gone. There are lots of people who had been with Spotify since the service rolled out here in 2008 who never used the “follow” feature… and they were pissed that Spotify, without telling anyone or giving any advance notice, emptied their “Artists” lists. These poor folks had to recreate their “Artists” lists by hand. It took some people days.
– The “Albums” tab still works as expected, but for reasons only God and Spotify’s developers know, they removed the alphabetical scroll bar. It used to be, if you wanted to listen to U2’s Zooropa, you’d tap “My Library”, “Albums” and “Z” to get pretty close. Now you have to scroll all the way down manually, like a medieval French peasant!
– It also used to be possible to save only some tracks from an album. So if you liked the sound of The Cars’ remastered Candy-O album but didn’t want all the demos and outtakes that come on that version, you could save just the album tracks but not the outtakes. No more – it’s all or nothing now.
– The “Songs” tab went away entirely, replaced by a “Liked Songs” playlist with all the songs from your old “Songs” tab, but now in totally random order! And since the songs are now in random order there’s no use for an alphabetical scroll bar, so they got rid of that, too. So instead of tapping “W” to get to Roxy Music’s “While My Heart is Still Beating” I now have to scroll through 3,719 songs listed in random order until I find it. Terrific!
– They also moved the “Recently Played” list from the My Library page to the Home page, and they removed all actions from it aside from “open”. It used to be that you could tap on an album or playlist in Recently Played and several options would appear: “Remove from this list” was great for hiding any trace of your secret Def Leppard obsession, “Queue” or whatever. By moving and neutering it, Spotify effectively got rid of a feature that tons of people used.
* * *
Needless to say, many users were pissed about all this. I was pissed enough to give Apple Music a try.
So… signing up for Apple Music seemed simple enough. But then I installed and opened the latest version of iTunes on my laptop… and now what? Spotify is a stand-alone app. You open it, and there’s Spotify. Apple Music is… buried somewhere in iTunes? Even though I was signed in to iTunes with the correct account there were no “Hey, we see you signed up for Apple Music! Here’s how it works in iTunes for Windows” prompt. Nothing. It took a few clicks, but I found it. And when I did, the selection was as expected. I looked through several of my more “problematic” artists, and Apple Music seemed to have the same library holes Spotify does: early Saint Etienne and Dramarama albums were missing from Apple Music, too.
For decades, PC makers like Dell, HP and Lenovo have allowed third-parties to install trials and demos on new PCs. It’s all about money: the margin on most consumer computers is razor-thin… so if Symantec is willing to pay an OEM $5 per PC to install a Norton Antivirus trial, most PC builders are only happy to oblige. While an annoyance, this isn’t a big deal. After all, most of the time it’s easy to uninstall this junk, or wipe the hard drive and install a fresh copy of Windows without the bloat.
But it’s much more difficult to get rid of this sort of thing on smartphones. In some cases (looking at you, Facebook), you can’t really uninstall the software; the best you can do is disable it. But sometimes you can’t even do that. This is especially irritating since phones tend to have much less storage than a PC, and resetting your phone only brings all those apps back, with no way to uninstall them.
Or is there?
You can use ADB to uninstall most any app on your phone. It requires a couple of apps and some command-prompt work… but it can be done.
But before we get into the how of it, it’s important to know what you can uninstall. To be honest, I played around with alternate ROMs and rooting and all that stuff, but it’s been several years. But back then, the “rules” were this:
1) If the app you want to uninstall was available on the Google Play store, you can absolutely delete it… because you can always reinstall it from the store if need be.
2) Some apps – like the built-in email, calendar and SMS apps – should be left alone or, at most, disabled. This is because some third-party apps use parts of the default apps, and by uninstalling them, you can break the third-party app. Here’s a weird example: I owned a phone where the Samsung SMS app controlled the settings for Amber (and other) alerts. Since I prefer Google’s SMS app, I deleted the Samsung SMS app from my phone without thinking, and thus could no longer control those types of messages. I looked hither and yon on the Internet for a legit version of the original Samsung SMS app, but couldn’t find it. Thus, in order to get the app back I’d have to reset the phone and start all over again.
3) Lastly, if you don’t know what an app does, leave it alone. Deleting “Facebook” or “Google Slides” or “Dropbox” is a no-brainer; deleting “Android Services Library” is just asking for trouble.
So, having said that… how do you delete this junk off your phone?
The first thing you need is to download and install an app called App Inspector from the Play Store (be sure to get the linked one, by a company called Projectoria, not the identically named one by a company called UBQsoft).
Once installed, open it; it will scan all the apps on your phone. Tap each app you want to uninstall and note the “package name”:
So, the package name for Chrome is com.android.chrome. Scroll through App Inspector and get the package names for the apps you want to uninstall.
Once you have a list of what you want to uninstall, you need to enable Developer Mode on your phone if it hasn’t been enabled already. To do this, go to Settings > System > About Phone. Rapidly tap “Build Number” 7 times – you’ll know you’re getting close when your phone starts saying “only 4 more taps to developer mode”.
The next step is to install Android Debug Bridge, commonly known as ADB. If you’re running most any version of Windows, you can watch this video for the complete how-to:
Here’s the webpage mentioned in the video, with written directions and the ADB link.
One last prep step on your phone: enable USB debugging. Go to Settings > System > Developer Options and enable USB debugging. BE SURE to turn this option OFF when you’re done.
So… you finally ready to uninstall this junk? Cool! Connect a USB cable to your computer, then connect your phone to the cable. The first time you do this you will probably have to wait a few seconds while Windows installs the driver for your phone. You will also get a prompt on your phone asking if you want to allow USB debugging. Tap “Always allow from this computer” (if you wish), then tap “OK”:
If you don’t see this prompt, check the notification area. If you still don’t see it, disconnect and reconnect your phone a couple times until you do.
Now, open a command-prompt in your ADB directory. In the YouTube video this was C:\ADB; on my computer it’s C:\Program Files (x86)\Minimal ADB and Fastboot. Once the command-prompt is open, type ADB shell. You should get a different prompt, like this:
Type the following at the prompt EXACTLY as shown below:
pm uninstall -k --user 0 [package name]
then press ENTER. So, like this:
You should get a SUCCESS message if the removal was successful. The above pic is from me trying to remove the Kindle Special Offers app from an Amazon tablet.
Here’s the command-prompt from when I (successfully) deleted a bunch of junk off my old Samsung phone:
Note that in this case, instead of entering ADB Shell and typing the uninstall commands, I did both at the same time… which is something you can do if you prefer:
adb shell pm uninstall -k --user 0 [package name]
If you’re curious, the apps I uninstalled are (from top to bottom):
– the Samsung web browser
– Google Docs
– Google Duo
– Samsung App Store
– Google Play Movies & TV
– Samsung SMS app
– a Tracfone downloader (which allows you to download the service-specific app, like Total Wireless or Straight Talk)
– Google Photos
When you’re done, just unplug your phone from your computer, close the command-prompt on your PC, then turn USB debugging OFF on your phone. I always reboot for good measure, but this isn’t 100% required.
Ah, the ZTE Max XL… the phone they should have named the “ZTE Max RD”, ‘cos you need to reboot it daily! Gather ‘round children, and let me tell you the story of the phone that was so bad it finally made me quit Virgin Mobile!
I got the ZTE Max XL last Christmas. And it seemed pretty awesome at the time – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 octa-core processor, a 6” 1080×1920 screen, a 13 MP camera, a 3990 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the back, all wrapped up in some Nougat 7.1 deliciousness! And the thing was only $125 on Virgin’s site! Sounds killer, right? What’s not to like?
For one thing, the screen is glitchy. Do you remember when a VGA cable would get loose or start to die, and if you brushed against it with your foot, you’d get weird streaks or other artifacts on the screen for a second or two? Yeah, the ZTE Max would often do that when playing YouTube videos, or when I’d play my slot machine games. It wasn’t especially bad – maybe 1 or 2 very short glitches during 30 minutes of game play or video watching – but it was certainly enough to make me worry.
And speaking of “worry”, the entire time I owned this phone I worried constantly about the battery. I’ve never owned a device that ate battery quite like this phone. After charging overnight on my nightstand, I’d wake up, unplug it and spend 15 minutes or so checking my email, catching up on headlines, and seeing what was going on with Reddit. And it wasn’t uncommon for that short usage to drain the phone to 92% or so. Yes, the phone used 8% of a charge just by using Outlook for Android, Google News and Weather and Relay for Reddit for 15 minutes. But that’s better than what I got doing chores: I like listening to music while doing dishes, and 35 minutes of Spotify + Bluetooth headphones could easily eat 20% of a charge. It got to the point where I’d eat dinner and let the phone charge back up to 100%. Then I’d do the dishes, only to watch the battery drain from 100% to 79% in a mere 35-45 minutes. It also didn’t help that the phone had the battery percentage RIGHT THERE on the notification bar, with no obvious way to disable that feature. It was almost like it was taunting me: “You want to listen to the new Sylvan Esso album? Hahaha! That’ll cost you 10% of this charge!”
You might have noticed I said “Outlook for Android” in the previous paragraph. That’s because almost anything Google-related on the ZTE Max did not work once the phone reached a certain amount of uptime.
To me, one of the “genius” things about technology is when it fixes a problem you didn’t even know you had. Several years ago, my cable company started offering an Android app that lets you schedule DVR recordings remotely. That might sound kinda pointless at first, but I never realized how often I’d be outside my home – at a family gathering, or at the pub with friends – and someone would mention a show they thought we might be interested in. With the app, I can just whip out my phone, and with a few taps set up a recording. Or – and I know this has happened to most guys at least a few times – you’d be out running few errands with the missus before a big football game… the one that she promised you’d be home in time to watch. But you’re running behind, and there’s no way you’ll make it home before kickoff. No worries – just use the app to record the game, and marital bliss continues!
Well, there’s a free service from the United States Post Office that’s the same level of genius: it’s called Informed Delivery. Once you sign up for the service, you’ll start receiving daily emails that contain scans of the mail that will be delivered to your home that day (if you don’t want emails, you can log in to the USPS site, or use the Android or iOS app). Here’s a screen cap from their website:
Informed Delivery also automatically keeps track of packages headed to your home, and you can use the service to leave directions for the driver (“leave at neighbor’s house”, if you’ll be out of town, for example). You can also use it to reschedule delivery of any missed packages.
There are a few caveats, though. Informed Delivery only tracks “letter-sized” items; it only scans larger items like magazines and catalogs if the sender pays extra for it (and few do). It also only scans mail with your name on it (letters addressed to “Resident” or “Occupant” aren’t scanned). It also doesn’t scan the weekly bundles of ads, like the Red Plum ads we get every week. And while package tracking is automatic, it’s only for packages with a USPS tracking number or Indicia ID; packages from overseas, for instance, aren’t tracked. On the plus side, creating an Informed Delivery account also creates a regular USPS account in your name too, so if you’ve been meaning to set up a USPS account to buy stamps or set up online shipping, you now have one more reason to do so.
In any case, Informed Delivery won’t change your life, but it does make things just a tiny bit easier. For one thing, I live in a townhome that has a “community mailbox”. If I don’t get the daily email from the USPS, I know there’s no mail, so no need to walk to the mailbox. And there have been times (when I had a horrible cold, for one) where I saw that that day’s mail was mostly junk, so skipped getting it that day. And there was one time recently where my missus was looking for something important in the mail, and it was late… to the point where she was thinking of calling the company. I saw what looked like the item in my daily USPS email and forwarded it to her – she was relieved that the item had arrived, and wouldn’t have to spend an hour on hold with the company.
Lastly, let me address (hah!) one thing. I learned about Informed Delivery from one of the message boards I frequent. It seemed like half the posters thought the idea was cool, while the other half thought it was crazy to opt into, since “Homeland Security will know what mail I’m getting!”
Well, first of all, if you’re the type of person who would be of interest to Homeland Security, they’re probably already looking at your mail anyway. Secondly, while I don’t know this for a fact, I’d be surprised if the USPS wasn’t already scanning the mail anyway. The USPS has been scanning the mail for ages – you didn’t think the post office sorted 506 million pieces of mail every day by hand, did you? In other words, I think with Informed Delivery you’re just getting access to the scanned images they already use internally; it’s not like they’re only scanning the mail of Informed Delivery users.