RJ11 to RJ45

My house, like many older houses, is wired with standard telephone cables, which may have been useful until about fifteen years ago. The upstairs bedrooms, the kitchen, and the family room all have RJ11 (telephone) outlets that lead into the basement where all the cables merge together.

It occurred to me that I could replace these telephone jacks with something a bit more useful, namely Ethernet (RJ45) jacks! I say “a bit” more useful because there really isn’t much need for wired Ethernet connections in this day and age, especially within a single home, but I do have some personal justification for a wired connection:

  • I feel much more comfortable having my main workstation wired directly to my internet router. The difference in speed and responsiveness is noticeable. As someone whose day job is working from home, this is an important thing.
  • I have several Raspberry Pi units that I’m using around the house (e.g. as a media player for the TV) that don’t have WiFi, and need a wired connection.

For some of the jacks, I was able to replace the cable by tying the end of the old cable to the head of the new one, and literally fishing it through to the basement by pulling on the other end.  However, a couple of the other cables seemed to be stapled to the studs along the way, so pulling them through was not an option.

Fortunately, it’s still possible to simply transform these phone jacks into Ethernet jacks. A phone cable has four wires, and this is actually enough for an Ethernet connection. Even though an Ethernet cable has eight wires, only four are used in a 100Mb connection. (For a gigabit connection, all eight wires are indeed used, but a 100Mb connection is still sufficient for my purposes.)

So, with just a few bucks spent on RJ45 wall outlets, here’s how it turned out:

20170305192556    20170305192751 If you attempt to do this, make sure to get familiar with the pinout of Ethernet cables, as well as the pinout of the wall receptacle that you purchase.

Homeownership

As a relatively newly-minted homeowner, I’ve been noticing a strange instinct waking up within me, namely the DIY instinct. I feel compelled to fix random things around the house, optimize, insulate, caulk, tuck-point. I suppose this makes sense since I’m an engineer: I derive great satisfaction from learning how things work, and making them work well.

But this also fits into a general philosophy I’ve always held, which is that you shouldn’t be allowed to use a technology without a basic understanding of how it works. If you drive a car, you should understand the fundamentals of internal combustion, and be able to change a tire, or even change the oil, brake pads, or spark plugs. Similarly, if you own a house, you should have a basic understanding of things like electricity (at the household 120-volt level), as well as plumbing (water and gas), sanitation, insulation, heating, cooling, security systems, cable hookups (TV, internet), etc.

It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t: these are pieces that fit into a single puzzle, and operate on very simple physical principles. Sure, you can hire a contractor for the simplest tasks around the house, but I personally wouldn’t feel like I’m “at home” if I wasn’t intimately familiar with every facet of how my house works. Besides, today it’s easier than ever to do DIY projects around the house, given the astounding amount of information on the web available for nearly every kind of task.

Prior to buying the house, we invited a home inspector who walked through the house and gave us a laundry list of minor and major items that need fixing or touching up. Slowly but surely, every week I commit to crossing at least one item off the list.

This week it was all about electrical outlets. Some of the outlets didn’t have ground (two prongs instead of three), some had reversed polarity (generally harmless, but potentially dangerous for certain appliances), and some need to provide a GFCI. After a few hours of work and a contractor-pack of new outlets, all of the receptacles now look pristine, and are completely up to code.

Grounding the outlets specifically turned out to be much simpler than I thought. The outlet boxes that hold the receptacles in the walls are made of metal, and the wires that lead to the outlets are also routed through metal tubes. The tube attaches to the outlet box on one end, and either a junction box or the circuit breaker on the other end. And conveniently enough, the mounting brackets of the outlet itself are metallic, and are connected to the ground pin of the outlet! Therefore, it suffices to just replace the two-prong outlet with a three-prong one, with no additional wiring.

I’m surprised by how many people I know who absolutely refuse to touch anything electrical around the house. Electricity is not something to fear; it’s something to understand, respect, and tame. Get to know your circuit breaker. Replace some old wiring. Put in a new dimmer switch. And most importantly, enjoy the knowledge that you made your own home even better.

Disabling comments

It’s time I join a growing number of bloggers and webmasters in a move that I think will be a net positive for the internet — disable comments on my blog.

Since the inception of this site in its current form, there have been roughly 2000 comments spread across all of my posts. I can count on one hand the number of comments that have actually contributed to the quality of the site, or to which I’ve looked forward to replying. That’s not meant to offend anyone who has previously left a comment; I simply feel that the signal-to-noise ratio is so low that it’s not worth the cognitive burden of moderating the comment queue.

One might argue that comments help to “open up the conversation,” and that by disabling them, I’m shutting out opinions and ideas that are different from mine. Far from it — if you have something to say, send it in an email, or a tweet. Or better yet, write it on your own blog, and send me a link.

For me, it’s a matter of focus. It’s not just about the aesthetic benefits, and even some performance benefits, of disabling comments. Rather, it’s about focusing on creating content for its own sake, instead of spending any time worrying how the commenters might react, much less having to reply to them.

As a reader, when you read blog posts and articles around the web, do you really find much value in reading the comment section (except for a good ironic laugh)? If you’ve written comments yourself, has it really led to a productive conversation with the author? It’s a solid “No” from my end, and I don’t foresee the situation improving anytime soon.

To be sure, disabling comments necessitates surrendering a certain amount of vanity. Receiving a comment often feels like a pellet of validation — a sense that your audience is present, and waiting for your next opus. But really, if you want to measure the size and the geography of your audience, then you can use Google Analytics. And if you really want to interact with your audience, then why not direct them towards a platform that is actually designed for social interaction, such as Twitter or Facebook?

It’s time for blogs to be strictly a source of content, and not a destination for discussion. That space is now owned by social media, and rightly so.
And… there we go. I feel better already!

Big updates to DiskDigger!

I’ve just released a pretty significant update to DiskDigger for Windows, which introduces numerous improvements and features not only for casual home users, but also for professional investigators and forensics specialists. Here are the highlights from this update:

  • Now using a “Ribbon” interface, which contains navigation (Back / Next) buttons, configuration settings, and recovery options (see screenshot below).
  • Every section of DiskDigger’s workflow now has a “Help” button where you can find answers to common questions about the recovery process.
  • In “dig deeper” mode, you can now save and restore sessions (in the Advanced tab).
  • In both “deep” and “deeper” modes, you can now save a detailed report (in the Advanced tab) which is a log of all recoverable files found by DiskDigger, along with basic meta-information for each file.
  • Improved support for scanning disk images. In the Advanced tab when selecting a drive, click the “Scan disk image” button. For forensic-strength scanning of disk images, you can control the number of bytes per sector (all the way down to 1), for recovering files that may not be aligned to sector boundaries.
  • Added support for recovering raw images from Panasonic/Lumix cameras.
  • DiskDigger now requires .NET 4.0. Therefore, for running it on Windows XP or Windows Vista, you may need to install .NET 4.0 from Microsoft if you don’t have it installed on your system.

dd_screen71If you’ve accidentally deleted or lost your files, DiskDigger is always here for you!

A quick (but useful) update to an oldie-but-a-goodie

One of the first apps I ever wrote for Android, and certainly the first app I published to the Google Play Store, was a simple unit converter app. (My god, that was nearly six years ago!) With over 150,000 loyal users, I’d say it’s been modestly successful, especially considering the hundreds of other similar utilities that exist on the Play Store.

Anyway, I thought it’s high time that this app receives some love, so I implemented a feature in the app that I’ve been wanting to make for quite a while: Widgets! You can now drop a widget right onto the home screen of your device, so that you can perform quick unit conversions on the home screen, without having to launch a separate app! You can also drop multiple instances of the widget, if you need more than one quick conversion. Here’s what it looks like:

device-2016-10-15-201230

The steps for putting a widget on your home screen varies for different Android devices, but generally it involves pressing-and-holding within an empty area of the home screen, and selecting from the “Widgets” menu. If you have the app installed, you should see a “Convert Units” widget that you can select and place on the home screen.

After placing the widget, you can configure which units it shows by pressing the “gear” icon on the left. You can then increment and decrement the value to convert by pressing the “+” and “-” buttons, or exchange the “to” and “from” units by pressing the widget itself.