Maui Tech Ninja Does Solar Tech

After working with Hawaii Pacific Solar on their latest project at Napili Kai Resort, I have a newly acquired skill subset of installing and configuring Solar Power Meters to report usage data.  I don’t expect to get many independent calls about this kind of work, but perhaps my skills will be needed by another company performing the same kind of work.  Currently, I’ve been working with devices from Enphase, Deck, EIG, and Obvius.

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iPhone 4 Broken Speaker Fix

This post will probably only appeal to the geekest of readers.  Anyhow… the gripping saga of an iPhone speaker box replacement and damage investigation reads on below.

After dropping my iPhone 4 on it’s bottom right corner on a hard tile surface, the speaker no longer sounded right.  Somehow the drop damaged the speaker.  Luckily, that was the only real damage.  Purchasing a new speaker/connecter assembly from Amazon I set out to do the repair.

Disassembling the iPhone 4 is much easier than the previous models.  Simply remove the two screws from the bottom, then slide the back glass up about 2mm and the whole thing comes off revealing the battery and other insides.  The guide at was extremely clear and helpful.  Be sure to read disassembly instructions before attempting this kind of repair.  There are a few things to be aware of that can make your phone as useful as a brick if done wrong such as neglecting to clean conductive surfaces and putting things back exactly the way they were.

I only needed the speaker box, but the assembly came with the dock connector as well.  I opted to replace only the speaker since replacing the connector as well required further disassembly.

Speaker replaced and working properly, I decided to take apart the old box to see what exactly had broken.  Expecting to see a torn cone flapping away, the speaker looked intact.  However, after cutting through the cone, I found the rare-earth magnet the driver coil works off of had broken out of it’s protective coating and was floating around inside the speaker housing.  The adhesive was plenty strong as it was still stuck to the box and the magnet’s coating stuck to it.  The silver outside of these magnets aren’t actually the magnet itself, but just a protective coating to physically strengthen and protect from corrosion.

Other than the images below, that’s pretty much it!

Click the images for their full-sized glory.

Speaker Box opened up revealing the Speaker


Speaker Diaphragm and coil removed, the driver magnet is clearly sitting off-center.


Magnet flipped over to reveal the chunk the adhesive ripped off the magnet when it was dropped.

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Stop Using WEP!!!

Many of us have WiFi Routers and although many people use encryption to password protect their wireless signal, they don’t know what protocol to use.  The three most common are WEP, WPA, and WPA2.  Of these three, WEP is the easiest to crack and gain access to.  WPA2 should be used where possible, otherwise, WPA.  If your computer won’t connect with WPA, you need to get a newer computer for daily use and throw that Windows 95/98/NT machine into a permanent spot with a wired ethernet cable or upgrade the wireless card.  Chances are if your laptop is this old the battery is shot and it’s plugged in constantly anyhow.


WEP encryption is so easy to crack with today’s processors, it’s literally only a matter of time, twenty minutes, to complete a successful crack of a WEP encrypted network.  The most common way to crack a WEP connection is to load a laptop with a specialized and minimized distribution of Linux, run some specific commands to start collecting data packets, and run those data through a cracking algorithm to decipher the encrypted password.  It takes about 20 minutes to collect the necessary amount of data packets to run the cracking algorithm.


Because that isn’t easy enough for most people, a new product has come out called WiFi Robin which basically does all the steps in the last paragraph for you.  All you have to do is wait.


The site is rich with how-to information, but is very slim on the legal implications of using such a device.  The site appears to locate the company outside US borders, and as such is not subject to FCC regulations.  However, using such a device in the US could violate FCC law, as well as other laws such as wiretapping, unauthorized entry to systems, and theft of services.  Not too long ago, Google got in trouble with Germany for sniffing and collecting data packets from open WiFi networks it’s vehicles passed.


For all those of you with control of your WiFi networks, it is important to secure your signals for more reasons than keeping your neighbor from hogging your connection.  In addition to each connection bleeding off your bandwidth, an open WiFi connection can leave the owner of that connection in the crosshairs of law enforcement.  If an unauthorized user connects to a network and uses it for some nefarious purpose, it could trace back to the IP address of that cable/dsl connection and falsely implicate the connection’s owner.  Until it get’s worked out, it could end up being a legal nightmare with jail-time and a sex offender registry listing as the stakes.  Don’t think distance alone will keep someone from connecting.  A homemade Yagi antenna made from a Pringles can, some threaded rod stock, and a bunch of washers can provide all the signal needed from as far as hundred yards away, and even further distances have been achieved.


While WPA and WPA2 can be also be cracked, the methods inherently take much longer due to the nature of the encryption implementation.  While WEP takes only 20 minutes at minimum to crack, WPA and WPA2 will take hours if not days if the hacker is competent enough and the security password is weak.  Cracking WPA and WPA2 require a Brute Force Attack that is very processor intensive.


So… Encrypt your WiFi Connection and use WPA or WPA2 with a nice long and strong passkey.


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Khan Academy

If you’ve ever wanted to keep learning but don’t have the money or time to commit to a structured classroom, you can now do so in your own home, at your own time for free at the Khan Academy.  This online academy features videos and practice exercises designed to facilitate your learning and understanding.  The videos are made into 10 minute, easily digestible video clips.  This is a great place for Teachers to instruct their students.  Multiple videos can be played in the course of an instruction period.  Check out Khan’s Getting Started Page for more info if you are a Teacher.

The Khan Academy’s subjects cover various Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Organic Chemistry, Cosmology and Astronomy, Computer Science), History, Civics, Standardized Tests through the GMAT, Finance, Economics, and Math ranging from elementary Arithmetic all the way through Calculus and Differential Equations, including Probability and Statistics.

When you login with your Facebook or Google account, you can keep track of your progress of which videos you’ve watched and keep track of what you are learning.  For those looking to improve their fundamental math skills, the Khan Academy features a Practice Map that allows you to track your proficiency in the various subsets of math.  Upon completing this map, an individual would be well-prepared to understand and master the concepts of Calculus and Differential Equations.

This system also rewards you with points that unlock various Achievement Badges.  Achievements give a little incentive and fun to the system to keep doing more.  So go check out the Khan Academy, login, and start learning!

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Beer-can Wi-Fi Booster

You can boost the wireless signal of your Wireless Router with a simple beer can.  There are a few things to note that are missing in the article.  First of all, modifying any antenna runs afoul of FCC laws because of it’s potential to cause interference and it’s ability to transmit over greater distances than the spectrum intended.  This modification is directional and will provide the strongest signal in the direction it’s pointed.  Also, this isn’t possible if you have the type of router with no antenna, such as the newer Linksys wireless routers.

Beer Can WiFi Booster

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HD Head Crash

This is what it looks like when a read/write head fails inside a Hard Disk Drive and crashes on the platter.  The little square at the tip of the armature is the silicon head that has broken and flipped over, letting the metal armature dig into the otherwise mirror surface.  (Click the picture for a larger image)



As you can see, the inner portion of the disk has been scratched by the faulty head.  The outer half of the disk is what surface normally looks like.

This is why backing up your data in more than one place and on more than one device is very important.   Luckily, this client kept plenty of backups and didn’t lose anything important.  A new and larger HD was installed and this Intel iMac was back in service like a new machine.

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Format Shifting

What used to be called “piracy” can be called “format shifting” today.  Hopefully the US system will follow suit.  Currently, ripping CDs to put on an MP3 player or your computer is technically illegal, but ignored by the recording industry.  This is the first official sanction of such an activity.

PC Pro UK Article

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Craigslist Scams

As almost anyone who has ever posted anything to CraigsList will know, scammers are everywhere.  One of the best ways to eliminate scammers is to post only your phone number and don’t allow email contact.  Scammers can still get to you through text, but you’ll know right away because the phone number will be obscured or from an online service.

Listed below are a number of elements to look for when fielding replies to your ad:

  • Asks for information clearly included in the ad
  • Poor writing and grammar skills
  • Says they can’t call you because they are on travel/military duty
  • Says they can’t call because of some unheard-of disease
  • Are enthusiastic about your item
  • Can’t meet in person, but will send an “Agent” or “Shipper”
  • Shipping costs aren’t an issue
  • Wants to pay by check or Paypal
  • Offers more than asking price
  • Wants to include extra payment so you can either send them money back, or pay the shipper, or any other request

By no means are scammers limited to these tactics or methods.  They can run these same kinds of scams through text messaging services as well.

The ultimate goal is to get the victim to deposit a check, then immediately withdraw some amount of funds to send back to them or pay a “shipper” in anticipation of the funds clearing.  What happens is the check is bad and the victim becomes liable for any uncleared funds.  So what may seem like a dream come true may actually be a nightmare in waiting.

Stay smart.  If a reply to your ad doesn’t seem right, don’t entertain it.  Craigslist is local so don’t agree to ship anything, and always meet your buyer in person.

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Fighting Web Nasties

For a long time now, one of my most recommended pieces of software is Avast Free Antivirus requiring only a free yearly registration.  Every computer should have an antivirus scanner on it now days.  However, preloaded AV software like McAfee and Norton seem to do very little to stop even the most mundane infections.  These sorry excuses for antivirus software have really only proved themselves to be effective marketing tools and revenue generators for their respective companies, with very little actual benefit to you, the paying consumer.  Norton and McAfee seem to be just as bad as the actual viruses when it comes to slowing down a system and being a general nuisance while they ask for more money.

Avast’s Free Antivirus by comparison is a very trim system which stays out of your way, only bothering you when there is something actually detected, or that your virus definitions have been updated (this can be easily disabled as well as the sounds).  While any real-time scanner will slow down the speed of any computer system, Avast seems to consume modest resources.

One of the most powerful features of Avast’s antivirus is the ability to set up a Boot-Time Scan.  This scan starts only after the computer is shut down and restarted, giving the scanner the opportunity to scan for viruses before Windows loads other processes and potentially a virus which will hide itself upon initialization.

However, if you have a Rootkit infecting your computer, no amount of scanners will be able to get rid of it.  Removing a Rootkit can be a difficult process on some machines requiring the Master Boot Record (MBR) on the Hard Drive itself to be scrubbed.  Upon starting up, the MBR is what the computer looks at to find out what can be loaded from the Hard Drive to start.  This part of the Hard Drive cannot be accessed while Windows is running.  A Windows Recovery Disk can be used along with command-line tools to clean the MBR.  The command-line is the scary black screen with very little else on it than the current working directory prompt, and a flashing cursor.  Follow the link for instructions on how to start up the Recovery Console for Windows and to remove a Rootkit virus.  This part is often not for the novice or average user.  The other option is to backup the data, wipe the Hard Drive, and do a completely fresh install of Windows again.

Uninstall your paid subscriptions to Norton or McAfee off your computer and get Avast free instead.


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Wireless SD Magic

It seems as though not everyone is quite aware of some of the wonderful technology we have available to us now.  One of these magical items is the Wireless SD Card, or Eye-Fi X2.  This little device looks exactly like every other 8GB SD card except it has a built in WiFi system.  It can create its own wireless network allowing connectivity to a wireless router or, depending on the model, Direct Connect and transfer of files to devices like a Laptop, iPhone, iPad, Android, or any other WiFi enabled device.  Direct Connect requires the Mobile model or better.

For photographers, it means being able to take pictures, turn around to your laptop, and see them nearly instantly on the screen for editing or simply for a full display.  A projector or wireless printer could even be incorporated to the setup for instant blow-up display or print.

Another added benefit to the wireless SD card is it’s ability to locate itself in the event of a theft.  When the thief starts taking pictures and the camera is in the vicinity of a wireless network, it can automatically connect and begin syncing photos with a previously set up Picasa or Photobucket-type account.  After a few pics get uploaded, simply take a look at the pictures for faces and the EXIF metadata on the photo for a Geolocation Tag, complete with longitude and latitude.  Take the info to the police and let them take care of the rest.  The best part is it all happens quietly and without the thief’s knowledge.  Geotagging must be enabled on the card through the setup, and the Eye-Fi card must be a Pro model that supports the Geotag feature.

The system used for Geolocation is not perfect or as accurate as GPS, and won’t work where there are no other Wireless signals at all.  Eye-Fi uses Google’s Wireless Positioning System which triangulates with already known locations.

According to the Eye-Fi website, the 8GB Pro model is the most expensive at $99 and the 4GB Connect model is the cheapest at $49, but does not support Geotag or Direct Connect to Android or iDevices.  The middle of the road priced card is an 8GB Mobile model that has the Direct Connect, but not Geotagging for $79.

This card is a must-have for amateur and professional photographers alike.  If nothing else, but for the potential to recover extremely expensive gear should it be stolen.  For a $100 SD card that will be used heavily anyhow, it’s cheap insurance.


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FREE Image Manipulation Tools

Don’t have the $600 to buy Adobe Photoshop for simple image editing and manipulation?  Don’t Worry!  There are FREE image editing tools that do the job without such massively overpowered software.  Check out FastStone’s Image tools.

First up is the Image Viewer, which does far more than simply showing you your pictures.
In addition to red-eye removal, resizing, cropping, retouching, and color adjustments, Faststone features over 150 transitional effects, as well as lossless JPEG transitions, drop shadow effects, image annotation, scanner support, and more.  This tool is Freeware and free to use.

Next up is the incredibly useful Photo Resizer for people who have lots of photos from a DSLR, or practically any other point and shoot that are very large files, and need to resize them for the web, email, or anything else.  This tool allows you to batch process files and resize thousands of photos to a specified size or percentage change with a single click.  In addition to resizing images, this tool also allows you to resize, crop, change color depth, apply color effects, add text, watermarks, and border effects in the same process.  This is especially useful for watermarking or adding text to many images at once for business and copyright purposes.  This tool will also allow you to batch rename files as well so they don’t all have to have the camera designated filename.  This tool is Freeware and is free to use.

FastStone also has another image viewing tool that allows you to password protect folders for private authorized viewing only.  This is FastStone’s MaxView which includes all the features of the Image Viewer.  This tool is Shareware and is free to try.  A lifetime license is $19.95

Lastly, is FastStone’s handy Screen Capture tool allowing you to define a specific are of your monitor to capture in an image.  This tool also has the ability to capture an entire webpage, scrolling the page while capturing it from top to bottom and can even make movies of your action on the screen.  This is very useful if you want make tutorial videos of what you’re doing on the screen.  This tool is also Shareware and is free to try.  A lifetime license is $19.95

These tools all share some similar features so you don’t need all the tools to get a diverse functionality.  The Image Viewer seems to be the most powerful and versatile tool.  These tools are great when you need to make quick adjustments and don’t want to drag Photoshop out of it’s cave.  While these tools don’t compare to Photoshops entire feature set, they can save a lot of time by setting it to do the repetitive and mundane work.  One of the best features of these programs is their small size and fast load time.  No need to find something else to do for a few minutes while Photoshop loads.

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Dropbox is a cloud type service that allows you to keep certain folders synced across any number of computers and devices, and for sharing folders and files with other users and people.  This is incredibly useful if you’re always on the move, don’t take a laptop everywhere, and still need to access data you have at home or the office.  Dropbox is especially useful for transferring files to others that are too large to email (>10MB usually).   Previously, to transfer large files the only other options for the average person were to write the files to a USB stick or CD/DVD and send it in the mail, or set up a complicated FTP server with account names and other hassles.

Dropbox allows you to send invites to your shared folders to anyone with an email address.  The best part about this is you can use up to 2GB of storage for free with full functionality!  Larger data storage plans are available for a fee.  There is even a mobile app for your smartphone.  Check it out!

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HDMI Cables – Price Unrelated to Quality

Many people will buy whatever HDMI cable simply because the salesman said to.  There is usually an array of cables ranging from about $40 to well over $100 touting superior transmission of signal quality.

One problem: HDMI transmission is digital.  The device will either receive the transmission and decode it to your screen with perfect representation, or it will get partial or no signal and you’ll either see pixelated squares of the image, or nothing at all.  If you’re seeing a clear image, your cable is doing it’s job.  Digital transmissions will never show a fuzzy signal like bad antenna reception.  This also goes for sound too since it is all transmitted digitally over that cable.  Click the following link for an excellent article on the difference between Analog and Digital.

Bottom line:  get your HDMI cables through Amazon or Monoprice where the cables are low cost enough (shipping charges may apply) you can get many cables for the price of one from your electronics store.  If one cable turns out not to work well, you didn’t end up wasting money.  I’ve seen $60 Belkin cables that didn’t work at all, but a cheap replacement did just fine.

Amazon has a selection of common cables offered by their vendors.  Monoprice has a very large and diverse selection of quality HDMI cablesranging from about one foot (<$2), to over 50 feet (<$50).  Monoprice also has a large variety of specialty HDMI connectors allowing for a hinged joint in the cable, 90 degree turns of varying flavors, and HDMI cable extenders.

Do yourself a favor, don’t buy ANY audio or video cables from a brick and mortar store anymore.

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Bill Gates Invests in Liquid Metal Battery Technology

Founders of the Liquid Metal Battery are trying to cut energy costs with their new prototype battery, which will be able to store several hours of wind and solar energy. The battery will consist of active materials in liquid form and at high temperatures: Liquid Metal Battery.

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Mac Users Not So Safe

Mac Forums are starting to show up with reports of viruses, fake virus scanners, and porn pop ups affecting Mac computers.  If you have a Mac, do not download or install any programs named “Mac Protector” or “Mac Defender” or anything similar.  Only install programs from trusted companies and sites.  Another article on the situation is here.

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Sony trying to “make It up” to PS3 owners

Sony is trying to offer it’s user consolation for the recent extended outage of the PlayStation Network by offering a free game download on their PlayStation Store.

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Jobs in Hawaii

Are you a Programmer, Web Developer, or other kind of IT professional and would really love to live in Hawaii but never thought it possible?  Well check out the Tech Hui  Job Post forumTech Hui (pronounced Hoo-ey for those Mainland types), is a Hawaii web based tech community.  If you are a techie already in Hawaii, I highly recommend joining this group (hui) to find out about the latest going on in the local tech industry as well as being able to join technical discussions with other like-minded people.  Often people will arrange meet and greets at a local restaurant or pub.  If you have a local business, this will increase industry networking opportunities for you.  If you want to live in Hawaii and get paid while doing it, this may be your opportunity.

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GigaGeek Nostalgia

Want to see what the internet looked like before it was called the “Internet”?

To do so, simply open your Command window  by clicking Start -> Run…  then type “command” and a black window will pop up waiting for you to type.  Next type (without quotes) “telnet” and you’ll see the text based interface that was used in the days of Arpanet/Usenet.  Since all the data on the internet in those days can easily fit on a modern hard drive today, the entire internet circa 1988 is replicated and simulated here including 25,000 hosts, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), games like star wars with ASCII animations, documents, and simulated users.  It helps if you know anything about UNIX.

If you don’t want to use the Terminal, you can simply go to and use the web interface, although it may be a lot slower.  Have fun!

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Free Software Page

I’ve just completed a new page for my website here at for Free Software.  Be sure to check it out and make use of it!  There is a permanent link to it in the sidebar to the right as well.

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Geeking Out On Wireless Performance

This is my first official post on this username.  I hope to post something here at least once daily.  We’ll see how that goes.

I found this interesting and useful document during one of my quests for information after I noticed a significant difference in Wired and Wifi download speeds.  Both cards are capable of transmitting data at much higher speeds, but for some reason the WiFi seems limited to slower speeds.

This WiFi Performance PDF has a quite a bit of detailed and dry information, but is easy enough for anyone to read who has the interest

Gemia’s posts here will undoubtedly be less esoteric.

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