How I Fixed My Overly-Sensitive Car Remote With Plasti-Dip

Posted on June 23rd, 2013 in Engineerboy,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy
Plasti-Dip Car Remote

Clear Plasti-Dip Car Remote

DISCLAIMER: I have no specific knowledge of car remotes nor the short or long term effects of coating them in a rubberized substance, and the consequences could be dire (void warranty, damage, remote-freak-out, etc).  This post represents steps I took for my own remote.  They may not work for you and may have unintended consequences, so if you decide to try something like this it is at your own risk!!!  

We recently purchased a new vehicle (2012 Toyota Sienna), and I found that whenever I had my key chain in my pocket (which is always), I would regularly activate different, random remote buttons on the fob.  Some mornings I would go out and find the car unlocked (when I knew I had locked it), other times I’d find one (or both) of the side doors slid open.

I’ve had car remotes on my key chain for decades, and while on some rare occasions (like climbing under the sink to fix plumbing) I might incidentally have activated the remote, it was only once every great while (e.g. every year or two).

But with the Sienna remote it happened multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day.  Something as simple as getting up out of a chair or even just putting my keys in my pocket would result in an unexpected (beep) followed by a slow (and, seemingly, mocking) mechanical response from the van.

I searched the Web and also solicited advice in related forums, but the universal feedback I got was ‘take your keys out of your pocket when you get home’.  Er, yeah, gee, I had never thought of that (rolls eyes).  The lone helpful suggestion I got was to try to find a silicone cover for the remote.  I searched online for one, with the thought being that adding some thickness around the remote such that the buttons were a bit more inset would reduce the frequency of unintended activation.

Unfortunately, while there are plenty of places that sell covers for Sienna remotes, none that I could find sold one with our particular button configuration.  However, I still liked the idea of somehow reducing the sensitivity of the remote with some type of rubberized coating.

It occurred to me that a potential solution was to use Plasti-Dip.  I’ve used the black version in the past for coating tool handles, and I even dipped a USB drive into it to block the blinking LED it had that bothered us in the car (it holds music and plugs into a port on the dash of our other vehicle).

I searched online and found that they also made a clear version.  I could picture in my head that dipping the remote in Plasti-Dip a couple of times would create a thicker protective rubberized coating that might reduce incidental button presses.

I’ll stop here and refer to the disclaimer at the top of this article.  Although I consider myself a handy guy,

How I went from loving to loathing TiVo…

Posted on August 28th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews,Technology,Television by EngineerBoy

I still *want* to love you, but you're losing me

Dear TiVo,

I read two articles recently that spurred me to write you this letter.  The first article described how at the end of July 2009 you had 3.05 million subscribers, but at the end of July 2010 you were down to 2.38 million.  Five years ago this would have surprised me, but not any more.

The second article was from your site, describing the spiffy new QWERTY TiVo remote with a sliding face and a full keyboard.  I was overjoyed by the news, as I’ve been waiting for a remote like this since I bought and activated my first TiVo back in 2002.  I read the article in great anticipation, wondering how pricey the remote would be.  Hm, $90.  Not unreachable, but seemingly a little steep, which would make it in keeping with everything else you sell.

But then I got to the last paragraph, where the last sentence read:

“The new remote will work with TiVo Premiere, Premiere XL, TiVo Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL boxes.”

No Series 1?  No Series 2 or Dual-Tuner?  Leaving us faithful early adopters behind again, are we?

Typical.  This is typical of everything I have come to expect from you over the years.  I still love TiVo-the-technical-solution, but with TiVo-the-company I have gone from love to like to not caring to being annoyed and, finally, to loathing, where I am today.

I now own and use 5 (count ‘em) TiVos, but they are all Series 2.  My disillusionment began in earnest when you released the Series3 boxes, and included things like YouTube browsing that were not made available to Series2 owners.  Now, you had a story for why this was so, which was something about Flash, I think, but I didn’t (and still don’t) buy it.  If you had wanted to make it work, you could have.   But, you chose to have those features and functions be differentiators to try and get Series2 owners to upgrade.

So close, and yet so far away

And it’s continued to be that way over the years, up through the latest insult of not letting us have the new remote (pictured at left).  You continue to add new and improved features and functions, very few of which are made available to your existing base of owners, unless they have the latest and greatest.  Now, I understand this from a business perspective, as I work in technology, so I know that it’s hard to keep the installed base happy.  It’s very easy to add new features and functions to totally new and redesigned devices, and your bean-counters are happy to see the R&D and other expenses that go into anything that will grab new customers and dollars.

I can visualize the meetings where you discussed the strategy of

My dogs eat Scotts® Organic Choice® Lawn Food

Posted on May 8th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy

Dogs eat it, flies swarm to it

I thought I’d try to be a little more gentle on the environment and use an ‘organic’ fertilizer for our yard.  I found Scotts® Organic Choice® Lawn Food at the local Home Depot and decided to give it a try.  I just spread it this weekend so I can’t speak to its greening or healthifying effects on the lawn, but I can state, unequivocally, that my three dogs and every fly in the general area *love* it.

I first spread it on the front lawn, without any drama, and the only slight warning sign was the very…er…’organic’ smell of the stuff.  However, it smelled like it could be a rich source of nutrients, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Then I spread it in the back yard, where our dogs have access to the fenced yard.  I locked them in the house while I spread it, and as soon as I finished and let them back out all three of them started snuffling around the entire yard like prized truffle pigs.  Things took a turn for the worse when I noticed that all three of them were also licking the grass and ground and ingesting the fertilizer grains.

I also noticed that there were flies all over the yard, landing randomly all over the grass, apparently drawn in by the organic lawn food.  Note that I’m pretty meticulous about keeping our yard clean of doggie bombs, so the appearance of swarms of flies is not normal.  Also, the flies weren’t hanging around any dog piles, they were all over the yard.

I locked the dogs back in the house and figured I’d try watering the Scotts into the yard and see if that would help.  It didn’t, it only seemed to add an irresistable ‘gravy’ to the granules and made even more attractive to my dogs and the flies.

So, now, here I sit with my dogs locked in the house, waiting for the time when (I hope) the Scotts has lost its mojo enough that my dogs won’t continually graze on it.  The stuff claims to be safe for kids and pets, and there’s even a picture of a kid and a pet laying in a grassy yard on the label, but I bet this stuff isn’t designed to be a dietary supplement. 

I checked the Scotts site here, but they don’t have any helpful information, and as of the time of this posting the “View Label” button on that page returns:

“We apologize for the inconvenience, but this information is no longer current and accessible.”

Similarly, the ‘FAQ & Help’ tab says:

“Sorry, no F.A.Q. material for this product is available.  If you have product questions Scotts experts are available by email and phone in our Help Center.”

Which neither answers my questions nor is helpful.

So, if you’re like me and you’re exploring more natural ways to keep your lawn green, and you’re wondering

Christmas Dispirit

Posted on December 14th, 2008 in Brenham,Commentary,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy

Build It By Yourself, We Won't Help

We were doing some Christmas decorating on the outside of the house, and it turned out we needed a couple of things to finish off the process – like one last string of icicle lights, green extension cords, stakes to hold down a big snowman and nutcracker, etc, etc – typical Christmas stuff, in other words.  So we headed out to Lowe Depot, as we like to call it, as our town has a Lowes and a Home Depot across the street from each other, and we typically use them interchangeably and as alternates when we can’t find what we want at one or the other.

Today is Sunday, December 14, 2008 – Christmas is still eleven days away.  We had noticed that both of these stores had started putting out their Christmas merchandise before Halloween, if you can believe that.  Well, today, fully eleven days before Christmas, we were surprised to find – at both stores – that the Christmas merchandise was already being taken down and replaced with regular hardware and gardening stuff.  In both stores the “Christmas Section” was a pathetic little cluster of huddled, leftover crap.

Now, I’m a realist and I understand we were buying this last-minute stuff late in the season, but this wasn’t just slim pickings, this was the store actively taking down the Christmas stuff and getting it out of the way.  When you couple with with the pre-Halloween setup of the Christmas stuff, and we now have a “Christmas Season” that, at least from a retail perspective, runs from before Halloween up until mid-December, then gets shoved out of the way before it can become inconvenient, or something.

It was very dispiriting.  I mean, I know Christmas has a commercial aspect, but this is ridiculous.  Do they really need to be that coldly calculating as to start taking down the Christmas merchandise before Christmas?  I mean, shouldn’t they have healthy sales of the merchandise until at least New Years?  Don’t “The Holidays” equate to Christmas + New Years?  Are they trying to avoid having to sell the stuff at a discount after Christmas?

Sad.

CleverDonkey’s Joy-Per-Dollar (JPD) List

Posted on October 29th, 2008 in Commentary,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy

 

They say that money can’t buy happiness, and they’re right, but there is a certain amount of joy in finding a product or service that provides you with happiness and utility far beyond the purchase price.  These can be inexpensive doo-dads or expensive gew-gaws, the key to making our list is that the product give us smiles that far exceed the pain of parting with the precious pesos.

Here’s the list:

Oxo Good Grips Magnetic Clips (large and small):  We have dozens of these little guys all over our refrigerator, both the large and small versions.  The big ones work great as chip clips and for larger clipping jobs, and the small ones, which actually have stronger magnets, do great at holding pictures/papers/doodads to the fridge, and also for smaller clipping jobs.

Perfect Tear Chrome Paper Towel Holder:  In my lifetime I’ve bolted at least a dozen crappy paper towel dispensers to various walls and cabinets, and they all sucked.  Either the roll would fall out, or it would be so tight that it wouldn’t rotate causing the towels to tear, or it would be so loose that a quick rip would unspool paper towels like a magician pulling a string of handkerchiefs from his sleeve.  The Perfect Tear solves ALL of these problems, plus it’s cheap and it looks great.  The trick is that the rolling mechanism has a ratchet-like feel to it as you turn the roll, putting just enough pressure to be both a) loose enough to allow for easy dispensing and b) tight enough to allow towels to be torn off with a wrist-flick without the danger of a runaway unspooling disaster.  This is the only paper towel dispenser I will EVER buy.

Dogs: Our dogs, Weagle, Biscuit, and Ruckus (plus our cat, Bouncie).  The amount of joy we get from our pets far, far, FAR exceeds any expenses.

SimpleHuman Dish Rack:  Our little country cottage doesn’t have a dishwasher, so we do dishes the old fashioned way – in the sink, then drying on the rack before (theoretically) putting them away.  This little dish rack works EXACTLY like we need it to, and has taken years of use and abuse in stride.

2000 Ford Expedition:  We have a 2000 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer 4WD with about 120,000 miles on it, and we LOVE it.  Yes, it’s getting a little squidgy around the edges, but it still runs like a top, it’s comfortable as hell, and it holds us, our family, our dogs, and all the crap we regularly haul in it, from groceries to electronics to furniture to gardening supplies to lumber.  Plus, Mynagirl LOVES the seat heaters and EngineerBoy LOVES the cold AC!

Emerilware 12″ Frying Pan:  We bought this frying pan as an add-on to the 10-piece set, which we also love, but we use the frying pan 4-7 times a week and it’s fantastic.  Solid

EngineerBoy’s Review of the Litter-Robot

Posted on August 13th, 2008 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Health and Fitness,Product Reviews,Technology by EngineerBoy
Open the pod bay doors, Mittens

Open the pod bay door, Mittens

We are a pet-intensive household.  Currently we have three dogs and a cat, but we used to have two dogs and three cats.  Having three cats teaches you that maintaining a litter box is an endless, thankless, hopeless, gross, stinky, unhealthy, unending chore.  We used to use the LitterMaid, and went through three of them over the course of five years.  They worked…okay.  However, they had some significant engineering flaws, such as the fact that the rakes became caked with kitty poo, the receptacle filled up super quick when three cats were on the job, and they simply wore out after a year or so.

When we moved to our current house we decided to forego yet another LitterMaid and search for a newer, and hopefully better, solution.  The search led us to the Litter-Robot, pictured to the right.  It’s kind of space-age looking, and looks kind of big, and looks like it might freak out a cat or something, and maybe, just maybe, might refuse to open the pod bay doors.

The good news is that the Litter-Robot works, and it works extremely well.  It’s hard to describe the mechanics of it, but the large, round part on the top is simply sitting in place by virtue of gravity, it’s not attached or connected to the base in any way.  The orb has a couple of windows on the side (you can see one of them in the picture, it’s the black blotch on the side), and when in the normal position those windows are blocked by panels from the inside. 

The orb sits on the base, and the base beneath the orb is open to the drawer below.  Sensors in the unit determine when your cat has used the litter box, and seven minutes later little wheels (hidden from view underneath the orb) start turning and spin the orb counter-clockwise.  Inside the orb is a mesh grate and retaining pocket for the litter, and as the orb rotates the litter flows through the mesh grate and into the retaining pocket.  Anything a little bit bigger than a couple grains of litter can’t go through the mesh, so continue to roll along the inside of the orb as it rotates.

After the orb passes the rotation point where all the litter is contained in the pocket, the movement of the orb engages a lever that starts opening the panels that block the windows.  When the orb is fully rotated, the windows are completely unblocked allowing free access for any dropping droppings to fall into the drawer below.  After a short pause, the orb rotates back clockwise, the panels close the windows, and it eventually returns to the fully upright and locked position. 

Note that on this return turn, it over-rotates by about 15-20 degrees, then comes back to completely vertical.  This movement leaves the inside with perfectly

Review of the Westinghouse 47″ LCD HDTV (TX-47F430S)

Posted on July 9th, 2008 in Product Reviews,Technology,Television by EngineerBoy

Westinghouse TX-47F430SJust over a year ago we purchased a Westinghouse 47″ LCD HDTV (Model TX-47F430S) from Best Buy.  This model is priced at the cheaper end of the spectrum, but it seemed to fit our requirements (reasonably good picture, reasonably cheap, from a trustworthy brand name).

The bottom line is that we love the picture and the features, but some of the fit, finish, and quality are lacking.  We expected this because of the lower price, and are happy (so far) with the price-performance compromise.

The Good
First, the good things.  The picture quality is excellent and sharp, and the highest resolution is 1080p, which is the highest HDTV standard resolution.  I’ve heard rumors that Westinghouse has changed to a different LCD panel for this same model number for the new sets being produced, and that the new panel isn’t quite as bright and sharp, but don’t know that for certain.

The connections are also great.  There are four HDMI connectors for HD content.  There is a PC monitor port which allows you to drive it has a super-high-resolution PC/server monitor, and also takes the sound output from the PC as well (great for PC gaming).  It has composite and component/S-video inputs as well.  You can get more technical specifications here.

We have several things hooked up to our TV, as follows:
Regular definition cable TV via TiVo: We get regular cable TV programming through a cable box, which feeds our dual-tuner TiVo, which feeds into one of the component inputs of the TV.  Movies that are broadcast in widescreen can be expanded to fill the entire screen and look really good (but not as good as true HDTV, of course).

HDTV via DirectTV: We also have DirectTV in order to get the NFL and other (selected) sports in HD.  DirectTV only goes up to 1080i, which is interlaced and not quite 1080p, but is still super sharp looking.

Computer: We have a computer hooked up which we can use with a wireless keyboard/trackball, allowing us to display anything PC-based on our television in very sharp resolution.

Wii Console: The Wii console is connected via the component interface and looks good, but not great.  This is a function of the Wii, however, not the television, as the Wii doesn’t support any native high-resolution formats nor HDTV, so it looks a little pixellated when scaled up on our 47″ TV, but still fun and playable.
Overall, the good is really good on this television.  But unfortunately it’s not all good…

The Not-So-Good
There have also been some annoyances with this set, as follows:

The Closed-Captioning simply does not work.  It gets a few of the words/text, but it’s very jumpy and misses random parts and just doesn’t work.  We rarely used captions, but sometimes it’s nice to have the news on with the sound down and the captions up, so that you can still read what’s going on without the noise intrustion, or when watching a quiet movie that you don’t

Review of CedarCide for Mosquito Control

Posted on August 3rd, 2007 in Product Reviews,Technology by EngineerBoy

We recently moved from a patio home in the big city (Houston) to a cottage in a small, country town (Brenham). In Houston we didn’t really have any outdoor living space as we shared a common courtyard with neighbors, but here in Brenham we purposely bought a house that could provide a nice outdoor lifestyle. We purchased in the fall of last year and since then we’ve made improvements to the backyard, such as putting up an 8′ privacy fence and driveway gate, giving us a private, shady retreat to enjoy.

However, this being the southern half of Texas, the coming of spring and summer meant that the mosquitos ended up taking over and driving us back inside most mornings and evenings. Also, since we have two permanent dogs, and one temp dog that we’re babysitting, our backyard has a certain amount of…how to say this delicately…um…organic….err…excretions? Natural…fertilizer? Canine compost? Okay, dog poop. And with dog poop come flies. We’re excrutiatingly uninterested in policing the poop, and we feed our dogs a very high grade of dog food, so the volume isn’t huge, particuarly for the size of our dogs (80lbs, 80lbs, and 25lbs). Nevertheless, the flies were also annoying and gross, but fortunately not the biting kind.

So we started on a project of figuring out the best way to take back control of our backyard. I won’t say that money was no object, but we weren’t going to penny-pinch and were willing to spend into the low four figures for a good solution. We first looked at the wide variety of mosquito traps out there, such as the Mosquito Magnet, SkeeterVac, Mega-Catch, etc. What we found was that while the underlying concept behind these devices appears to be sound (catching mosquitoes with CO2 and other lures), the implementations were horribly unreliable and the results were spotty.

These devices almost all work by luring the mosquitos in with some set of attractants, such as CO2, lurex, octenol, lights, and/or heat, then using a fan to suction the little buggers into a holding net where they remain stuck until they die. Also, it seems that most of the mosquitos in your yard actually live in your yard, meaning if you can trap and kill the ones in your yard, you break the cycle of population and then only have to deal with ones that stray in from the surrounding area.

But for every story of success, there were three stories of device failure, with most failures occurring at the start of the second season of use when trying to get the traps to start up again after having been stored away for weeks or months. I wasn’t able to find a single personal account of anyone using one of these devices for more than one season without having issues. Also, the company that originally introduced the product and concept, American Biophysics with their Mosquito Magnet, had gone bankrupt and their acquiring company seemed to be completely disinterested in any type of customer service. This

Review of Amazon Unbox for TiVo

Posted on May 1st, 2007 in Entertainment,Product Reviews,Technology by EngineerBoy

If you own a TiVo there is a new service available to you from an Amazon/TiVo partnership called Unbox. Also, if you don’t yet own a TiVo GO AND GET ONE RIGHT NOW!!!!! I’ll wait…

Amazon Unbox is a service that allows you to locate movies, TV shows, and other video content on Amazon, purchase or rent them, and have them download directly to your TiVo for your viewing convenience. No schlepping down to the video store, no waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail. Just an hour or two of download time, and it’s ready to watch. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

It is, kind of. You see, the technology is pretty good, with only a few quibbles, as follows:

You only get the main feature, none of the DVD extras (deleted scenes, commentary, etc)
Video quality is not nearly the same as DVD, for example, there is noticable artifacting in dark scenes
Sound quality is simply “stereo”, not 5.1 or any other home-theater-quality sound
No hi-def content
You have to wait for the entire movie to finish downloading before you can start watching it
You can’t transfer downloaded content between your TiVos or move it to a PC running TiVo Desktop

Other than that, it works pretty good – you log into Unbox with your Amazon credentials, locate a movie you like, click to purchase, tell it which TiVo of yours to download to (if you have more than one), then wait the 30-120 minutes for it to download, depending on the length of the feature and your available download bandwidth.

The big disappointment, however, is the number of titles available for download. When I heard that I would be able to download movies from Amazon directly to my TiVo, I was ecstatic – FINALLY entertainment technology that worked how I wanted it to – I figured with Amazon’s huge selection of DVDs that I would have virtually anything I wanted at my fingertips. But it ain’t so, not by a long shot. As best as I can figure, Amazon carries about 190,000 DVD titles. And how many are available for download to your TiVo? About 3,300. That’s a little less that 2% of the available DVDs. And that makes Unbox extraordinarily frustrating.

Since the service went live a few weeks ago, I’ve looked for, conservatively 150 different titles on Unbox. How many have I found that were actually available? Four. Four measly titles that I’ve wanted to get from Unbox. For this article I combined the top movies from both IMDB and the AFI to get their combined Top 20 films of all time – in other words, the twenty greatest films that have ever been produced according to IMDB and the AFI. Check the table below – one, count ‘em, one of these films is available from Unbox for TiVo:

AFI and IMDB Top 10 Movies of All Time

Title

Available for TiVo

HardiPlank Saga in Houston

Posted on July 1st, 2006 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy

4/6/2006

Today is the first day of our quest to install HardiPlank siding on our house. We aren’t going to actually do the installation, but we will be identifying local contractors, putting out for bid, hiring someone, managing the process, and posting the progress here along the way. Currently I’m looking for recommendations for a local HardiPlank contractor in Houston, so if you’ve had some work done by somebody you’d like to recommend, please drop me a line at engineerboy@cleverdonkey.com!

Our current siding is in sad disrepair. There are several rotten places and several places with loose boards, and it just looks crappy in general. We’ve wavered at the cost of HardiPlank, but have determined that it’s a worthwhile investment. We don’t want to simply replace with wood siding, as we’d still have all the potential rot/termite problems of wood, and vinyl is just…well…vinyl. It seems like the high-end vinyl isn’t bad, but it’s still just…vinyl siding.

Today marks the first day of our quest because we have made all the necessary decisions and lined up the means to do so. We have been pondering it for quite some time, but today is the day we really start the process of getting new siding. Keep tuned here for updates!

6/12/2006

We’ve narrowed down the potential contractors and this week they’re coming out to measure and provide estimates. We’re looking at the following potential contractors:

All-Tex Exteriors
Allied Siding and Windows
Houston Siding

These seem to be the most well-recommended in the Houston area. Several years ago we got a quote from All-Tex but at the time it was cost-prohibitive, we’re hoping for better pricing this time around!

6/20/2006

Well, we’ve made our choice, and it’s Allied Siding and Windows. The price was very competitive, and we also asked them to quote alternatives of vinyl or wood, both of which were cheaper but not by much. We also asked Allied to provide a quote for replacing all of our existing windows, which are older insulated glass models that have leaked and so have a smokey or mildewy appearance between the sheets of glass, some to the point where you can’t see through them.

The bottom line for the whole project came in within our budget, so we’re having Allied do everything, as follows:

Remove and haul away the old siding and trim (which is wood and is basically disintegrating at this point)
Replace any bad/rotten studs (their quote includes up to 32 feet of stud replacement)
Wrap the house in Tyvek
Install Hardiplank siding and trim
Replace all the windows with new Simonton Reflections vinyl windows
Paint the Hardiplank, trim, existing cedar scallops, and miscellaneous remaining wood with two coats of Sherwin-Williams Superpaint

6/23/2006

We signed the paperwork and put down a deposit. Allied did not specifically require a deposit but we put one down anyway for a variety of reasons, namely that we had it available and also that if a business has some of your money it’s easier to get their attention, if needed. We don’t anticipate any issues but we

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