Firestarters

Something useful I found out. Although I probably will never go camping, hiking, etc again, I was playing around with a Chinese fire starter. The kind that are a rod with a plastic knob at the end. The rod consists of a magnesium alloy with a groove in it, and an iron alloy rod glued into the groove. It comes with a lanyard and a small relatively dull blade attached to it.

The iron rod replaces a flint, which as a child, I used to go into the woods and collect and then try to get them to spark. Some of the rocks really were flint and would spark, many were quartz and would crumble and most were just rocks, and did nothing. Once you scrape the black paint off of the rod it sparks. It's not a very accurate device, so you need a fairly large pile of something to light.

This brings us to the other side of the rod. Magnesium burns very hot and very bright, as a child I used to buy at the mall magnesium ribbon and light it with a match. It will burn through almost anything, and is almost impossible to put out. Powdered magnesium (also from the hobby shop at the mall) would light much easier, but burn out faster.

This side of the rod can be shaved using the blade into little pieces (shavings) which will light if they are hit by a spark. You need a lot of them, a pile about the size of a US quarter, to be sure to catch them and burn long enough to light something else.

I saw several YouTube videos where people claimed that dryer lint works better, and I can verify that. If you scrape some magnesium shavings onto the lint, it catches more easily and stays lit.

So if I were going to put together an emergency fire kit, I would start out with a disposable gas lighter as they are the cheapest and easiest way to light a fire, and add one of these sticks. They vary in quality from good to useless so make sure to test it (safely) before you take it on a trip. I would also take a small ziplock of dryer lint to act as kindling.

I saw people recommending that you carry Vaseline soaked cotton balls if you need a long lasting kindling that is water proof. That should be fairly easy to carry a few. On the other hand if you are carrying (or have in you gear) a first aid kit, a tube of Vaseline, or as it is sold here in Israel as White Soft Paraffin, BP, and some cotton balls in a ziplock would do double duty as both a first aid creme and lip, etc protector and with the cotton balls kindling.

Note that it does not have to be an emergency kit, after watching some neighbors struggling with their barbeque, and filling the area with smoke that smelled of petroleum distillates, I would think some Vaseline soaked cotton balls would make their barbequing, my breathing, and our over all fire safety (their barbeque is under a canvas awning) a lot easier. It also made me appreciate my gas grill a lot more.

I'm note even sure that my sons will ever need it, the last time one of them went camping they were in a large communal tent, with cots and Wifi. Who needs fire if you have Wifi?????

According to my Vet, Vaseline also makes good hairball medicine for cats, so every home with a cat should have some.

Geoff.

After the virus

I started to feel bad Thursday night, and obviously came down with an intestinal virus. It also affected my blood pressure, which affected my heart rate and breathing and so on.

This was probably the worst weekend in Israel to be sick. There were high winds, lots of rain and snow was predicted (but did not show up). Our apartment (a rental) is fairly sheilded but the windows and doors leak cold air, especially when it is windy. We've done things over the years to help keep them out, but what is needed is to replace the windows with double pane aluminum frame windows. It never freezes so the problems with the aluminum frames getting to cold which people had in Philly do not happen here.

The doors need to have storm doors added to them.

A working heating system would be nice, but that's another problem, There is one in the apartment  with new radiators and pipes needed and the boiler replaced. It ran on oil, but most of the heat went up the chimeny. I say ran and went because besides the price of oil went through the roof as it were, I noticed the exahust pipe was cracked and pointed it out to my landlord. He did nothing about it. He also did not fix the fill pipe for the tank when it was removed by a neighbor's garden renovation.

Probably good for us, when the park behind us was set on fire (July 2010), the flames reached very close to the oil tank. If there had been any oil in it, it would have been a disaster.

The fire was set to drive us out of our homes so that oppoisition to developing the gazelle valley would have moved with us, but thank G-D, the fire did not do any real damage, just some fences, lawns, antennas, etc. Needless to say our landlord has not replaced the fence or irrigation system which was burnt or ever provided help (which was promised) in cleaning up and replanting).

Meanwhile I got an answer on the oxygen machine, it will cost me 250 NIS a month, but I can have as any refills of the 5 liter tank as I want  (Sunday through Thursday) for free.

This should of been posted on thursday, but never made it.

Still stuck in my 4 meter rut. It has in a way become worse because I am now more dependent upon the oxygen than before. It used to be that I would take several hours a day off of it and sit at my computer. My problem is that you can't reduce it slowly, eventually you reach the point where there is a period of "cold turkey" where I feel like I no longer can breathe.

During that time I need to sit still, take deep breaths and wait while I readjust to the thinner air. The fact that the air is around 12% lower in pressure here in Jerusalem than at sea level hardly helps.

Even switching to the portable tank is an adjustment, the air flow is reduced. Using the oxygen concentrator, I need to set it to between two and three liters a minute of air flow, while the tank, i use at one half liter per minute. It's not a real comparison, the regulator on the tank puts out the oxygen at a high enough pressure that hose length, as far as I have gone, 6 meters, is irrelevant, it still comes out at that flow rate.

The oxygen concentrator uses a bouncing ball indicator, which really reads pressure and it is calibrated with a 2 meter hose. So to get the equivalent of one half liter per minute of oxygen from the tank, with a 2 meter hose I need to set the output of the concentrator to 1.5-2 liters per minute, 2.5-3 for a 4 meter hose and at 5, the maximum for a 6 meter hose.

So switching from the concentrator to the tank requires some getting used to, and even more to nothing at all. With nothing at all, eventually things settle down, but not at 99% saturation, so it is far less comfortable, and leaves me with a prolonged sense of being unable to breathe, no matter how hard and fast I suck the air in.

This also is a problem switching the other way, as I tend to gulp air through my mouth and the oxygen is coming in through my nose. More air, no improvement.

I have not even tried to address the issue of a gas mask, as we turned our old ones in and never got new ones. Now it looks like we may need them, and there isn't enough money for the state to buy new ones. I still have no idea of how it will work, if at all. I guess  I could buy one privately that includes a drinking hose (to be connected to a special canteen), and connect it to the oxygen tank instead.

I have two tanks, one is a 5 liter portable tank, which I mentioned before. It will provide me with 1/2 a liter per minute (sitting still) for 8-10 hours.  I also have a large one used for emergencies when the concentrator stops working (which is relatively often, every three months or so) which will provide 30-35 hours. It's impossible to tell as the pressure gauges are approximate and calibrated in pounds per square inch, which is not exact. My estimate is that at 2000 pounds per square inch (the nominal fill amount of the tanks), they provide one liter per minute for an hour per liter of tank. It's a guess, but seems to be close with my actual usage.

The hose itself has its own challenges. The most obvious is to not get it caught on anything. The second was not to pull too hard or loop it because it disconnects from the machine. Th first few times I did it, I wasn't aware I had and ended up wondering why I suddenly could not breathe. It's hard to tell, the hose I use goes not to the unit itself, but to a water bottle.

The water bottle provides some humidity to prevent my nose and throat from drying out completely while I use it. There is a small curved hose from the water bottle to the output of the machine, and if I am not careful it gets kinked or wrapped around the bottle and pulled off of the machine.

It also has to be removed when I turn the machine off, one of the failures  I had of the machine was that when it was turned off there was a vacuum and water was drawn out of the bottle into the machine itself.

So far the rental company has replaced them free, without complaint, but I would prefer that they would just come by every other month and swap it out with another machine and take the one I have back the shop and PM it (perform preventive maintenance)

I guess is they figure it is cheaper to fix the when they break instead of PM them.

On the computer front, I tried one last time to upgrade the BIOS in the ThinkPad 770 and found a way to do it without the battery.  Now it is up to date (if you consider 2001 up to date) with the correct BIOS, but it still has the problem. Oh well, back to the drawing board as it were.

more in 4 meters

Today is the third day of the new plan, bring the oxygen concentrator into the dining room and sit here all day. Surpisingly although I have dozed off for a few minutes here and there, I have not had a nap, nor have I slept that much more at night. I've made a point of going to bed at midnight and I get up at 6:30 to get my sons out, but I still don't fall asleep right away, and I get up early on my own.

Since I have to pay 15 NIS per hose (from the concentrator or tank) to me, I called up and ordered 6 of them, figuring I would pay by credit card and replace them about once a week. I've been nursing the old ones along, the one on the concentrator was starting to turn brown. :-(

When the hose was delivered this afternoon, it was exactly that, one hose. I called and hopefully the others will show up next week.I ask for the 4 meter (12 foot) long ones, and they must be rare. Not that rare  expect, for a 2 meter one to work, the concentrator would have to be next to you and you could not move.

I tried using a 2 meter hose on the portable tank I have and it was too close too be of any use.

I'm also trying to clean and sort things, in the last few days I've thrown out almost 100 disks I was keeping, almost all backups of things I no longer wanted, or had better backups of, or obsolete software I did not really care about, for example various releases of Fedora, and internet explorer.

I regularly use old versions of Winows and DOS on computers, but I.E. is not worth keeping around because although they still run the software I need them for, which won't run on a faster computer or more modern windows, old web browsers just don't work. Too many things have changed for them to render webpages in an useable form.

There have also been advances in virus technology and unless you have an up to the minute antivirus you are likely to find your Windows computer infected. These old computers are just too slow to run a modern antivirus program, so I use them for what I need them for, but don't surf the web.

I could put LINUX on them, but the latest versions of LINUX are so bloated that they take as much (as many?) resources as Windows.

One of my projects was to get a new laptop to program a certain type of radio. I have two that I currently use, both have broken hinges and will soon break the cable to the screen inside of them and become useless,. The latest one I was given was an IBM ThinkPad 770. It's a nice early Pentium II laptop with a good screen. It runs DOS and Windows 98 fine, except for one thing. It has a serial port, but the serial port can not be accessed under DOS. This makes it almost useless to me.

I'm trying to get rid of some old Macintosh Laptops in various types and sizes, the latest a Pismo, most are pre-G3. Anyone interested?

Life in 4 meters.

Last April I was hospitalized for over a week due to a blood clot in my lungs. Exactly where was never known, it was small enough that I was able to call for an ambulance and when the paramedics came, they gave me a shot which broke up the clot.
Since then  I have been using oxygen to assist my breathing.

My HMO (Kupat Cholim) pays for an oxygen concentrator, which re-arranges the air. About twice the oxygen that is normally in air comes out of a hose, and the air coming out of the vents in the machine is depleted. In the end there is no net loss or gain in oxygen in the room because most of the extra that I breathe in from the tube comes back out again.

For me it is a big gain because my O2Sat (oxygen saturation level) is 99% when I use the machine. It probably is 100%, but the meters I have only go up to 99 to reduce cost. Without the machine it ranges from 96% sitting still during the day, to around 90% if I move around or are sleeping.

Think of it this way, your lungs are like a cafateria with 100 seats. 100 red blood cells arrive looking to be fed. With 100% saturation, they all leave full and carry the oxygen to various parts of your body. With 95% saturation, 5% leave empty. This keeps going on and on, so parts of your body are oxygen starved, while others are not.

The biggest user of oxygen is your brain, so it means that a portion of my brain is not functioning 100%. This is the same effect you get when you fly too high and start to make mistakes, pass out, etc. Mostly what it meant is that I was sitting around slightly dazed.

It also has other effects, while I sleep I often would wake up having a dream where I was trapped. Using the oxygen machine, I rarely have those dreams and wake up feeling better. 

Unfortunately due to the size and weight of the machine, I can have it in my bedroom or my kitchen, but not both. I can move it with help, but there is no help during the day. I have to sit in the kitchen or lie in bed. I need to do both. Due to my staying up until my sons get to bed (or they wouldn't) and the effects of the medication I take, I need a morning nap.

If I don't take one, I fall asleep anyway, which in a chair can be a disaster. I also need to get a chair with arms (hard to find and expensive due to my weight) that leans back slightly so when I fall asleep I fall into it, instead of out of it.

The 4 meters refers to the length of the tube from the machine, 4 meters. So everything I do must either be within 4 meters of the machine, or I need to use a portable tank provided by my HMO. Note I said portable, it's a 5 liter tank, about 1 meter high. I have a small cart to carry it around, but it's too heavy to drag up the stairs, etc.

If I call between 8:30 and 9:00 AM Sun-Thur, it gets replaced with a full tank, which is good, but it means that I am limited to one tankfull  from Thursday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. A tank lasts 9-10 hours on minimum demand and if I need it for walking around, 4-5 hours.

I'll go into it more tomorrow.

Geoff.

back again

I had not realized that I had not posted anything for almost 2 years, so I'm going to try to get back into things again.

Last week was Rosh Hashannah. In Jewish custom, it is a time of new beginnings, so I think it is an excellent time for me to start my blog over again. 

It's hard to summarize the last 2 years in a post, or even thing of how, so I will start with a problem I had and how it was resolved.

Being a ham radio operator, I have radios and antennas. In between are wires. The wires are the point of this discussion.

When the undersea telegraph cables were laid around the turn of the 20th century, there was a problem with the wires. Each wire had to be bundled together with a return wire. Basically for each each out there had to be an in, or there would be problems with the signals being crossed. To save space and effort coaxial cable was invented. This is a wire within a wire. The center conductor is covered with insulation and then another wire is wrapped around it.

When radar was being developed before WWII (yes, there was a radar set at Perl Harbor), someone figured out that a coaxial cable was the best thing for those signals. Instead of a wire wrapped around the inner wire, a copper braid was used.

Coaxial cable or COAX as it now called (pronounced coh-axe) is used for almost all radio applications and things like video cables,

There is my problem. Ham radios use a specific type of coax and connectors on the ends. TV signals use a different type of coax, and different connectors. Ham radio coax here in Israel is hard to find, the connectors (I thought) next to impossible,

It turns out I was wrong about the connectors, they can be ordered, they are just very expensive. In the US they are called PL-259 plugs and SO-239 sockets. In Japan they are called type M connectors. Here they are called UHF connectors. They used to be called UHF connectors in the US, but that was when UHF frequencies were below the FM broadcast band (just after WWII).

Since 1965, UHF has meant something very different due to the UHF TV channels, which became mandatory in the US on all TV sets.

So I went for around 13 years looking for connectors I could not find, because no one knew what I was talking about.

Meanwhile the coax cable hams use is still hard to find and has to be ordered by the 100 meter roll. There is someone near the airport who sells it in shorter lengths, but they are not anywhere I can get to. 

UHF connectors are expensive (I said that, didn't I), and have to be soldered onto the wires. Soldering UHF connectors is an art. I once was passable at it, but 13 years of not doing it has taken its toll.

So I have been using cables I brought with me from the US. They were outside for a few years when I lived in Philly, and so they were getting pretty old.

TV coax was not very good, and generally you had to order it from a specialty shop to get anything decent. In the last 14 years, the advent of high quality home television, satellite and cable TV has changed that. The standard TV coax you can buy at the mall is far better than the average ham coax that I could get 14 years ago and a lot cheaper.

They are different and can not be used for the same things. If you try to transmit a high power signal, I am licensed for 1000 watts, it will melt and short out, causing all sorts of havoc. Using it for reception, or low power transmitting is not a problem. Modern coax is designed to keep signals in, so that your cable or satellite dish signal does not interfere with your radio or TV. It therefore keeps any interference out, and does not leak transmitted signals into the world, causing interference.

Satellite dishes have equipment at the dish end that needs power, and it goes up the coax. So the coax is designed to carry a decent amount of electricity.

This makes it perfect for ham radio use, or at least my ham radio use. Someone wanting to run microwave links, or use high power would find it is not what they want, but I am perfectly happy with it.

The problem is connectors. TV coax uses a copper center wire, but aluminum as the outer conductor.  It is very difficult to solder to aluminum. A company called LACO sells special compounds to make it easy, but their middle east distributor will not answer any requests from Israel, and the company won't "go around" them.

Well, I have lucked out. Since the demand for good, weatherproof, easy to use connectors has been fueled by the cable TV and satellite industry, a new type of connector has been made. They are called compression connectors, and work by squeezing the front and back of the connector together trapping the coax in it. They have internal water resistant seals, so the connectors can be left out in the rain.

Previously the connectors were screw on, which worked by trying to grasp hold of the cable by screw threads. Most of the time, they did not make a good contact with the braid, and often fell off. The other kind were crimp on, where you stuck the connector on to the end of the coax, and squeezed a ring around it. Squeeze too hard and you deform the coax, making it bad at radio signals, squeeze too softly and it falls off. Squeeze just right, and it still falls off after a few years.

There were good crimp on connectors for TV coax, but they were so expensive, and the tools so hard to get that only the cable TV company installers had them.

So now I can go to the local Home Center (our equivalent of Home Depot) or ACE and buy a roll of TV coax, cut it to length and install compression connectors on it. The connectors and tools are available here and from hundreds of eBay dealers. I've bought them from both, but that's another topic.

Adapters to UHF connectors are hard to find and have to be ordered from outside of Israel. I found a local source of adapters for a different connector, and found compression ones on eBay.

So I was able to run new coax cables to my antennas. They only lasted a few weeks, but that's next time's story.

Geoff.

Radio day part 2

I spent some more time with the HA-350. It's good to get back into things, though the only real tools I have a set of screwdrivers and what's left of my wits. I also have a voltmeter and something that can be sort of used as a signal generator (an MFJ Antenna analyzer), but it's stable nor calibrated in strength.

The problem is that it was dropped on the preselector knob, breaking the capacitor inside. This is not an electrolytic capacitor like I mentioned before, it's an air variable capacitor. You've probably seen them in old photos. It has stationary vanes of metal with others that move in and out. As you turn the dial, they mesh (but don't contact) more or less, changing the capacitance.

Here's a picture of a single one I found with an image search, the one I need has two (I think identical) sections on the same shaft.

http://www.mtmscientific.com/cap3.jpg

I have a manual for the radio which I was able to download and it shows the capacitor on a schematic (wiring) diagram, but does not give any information about it. My guess is that it is a 365mmf air variable capacitor as they were commonly used in AM radios of the time.

The good news that the radio works on 7mHz, which was the band where the capacitor was set with minimum meshing of the plates. I moved it there by hand. Unfortunately it does not work on any other band.

Any information as to what it really its, a source for or a replacement, or a donation of one would be gratefully appreciated.

Thanks,

Geoff.

radio day

Last night I received another gift. :-) (Completed and corrected posting). Part I.

I use the smiley because I'm not sure my wife agrees that it is a gift. It was three ham radios from the 1960-1970s. They all use tubes, although one of them has 4 transistors in it. The first one is a Lafayette HA-350.

The HA-350 is a ham band only receiver. Lafayette was the competition to Radio Shack. At the time they sold the Ha-350 there was a going business in ham radios, parts for experimenters and CB radio. CB was less than 10 years old then and had still not "caught on".

It was not until the cheap transistorized CBs of the 1970's did they become noticed. During the 1976 oil shortage there was a US wide trucker's strike over the high price of gasoline. Although you needed a license to operate a CB, you did not need one to buy a radio, and almost every night every long haul trucker had one in his cab.

That's where Radio Shack and Lafayette diverged, both sold CBs, but Radio Shack specialized in them. This lead to Radio Shack being what it is today, a store that sells cell phones, cheap technology toys and satellite dishes. They even funded a movie Called "Citizen's Band" with long shots of truckers talking on their CBs with the camera carefully showing their Radio Shack radios instead of the actors. It was so bad that I can't even find it on the IMDB, but it may have been renamed.

Lafayette took another direction and was bought out by J.C. Penny. Penny made some big mistakes with the way they tried to expand the company and Lafayette folded and it's brands gone forever in about two years. The modern concept of liquidate the company, keep the brands had yet to be invented.

Back to the radio. For those that were not around in the 1960's "made in Japan" was synonymous with "POS". Hence the comment by Dr Emmet Brown in "Back to the future" about the camcorder, "no wonder it's junk, it's made in Japan". The Japanese rise in technology exports had yet to appear.

Sony products were sold by Supserscope, not Sony, Nikon had not yet built their famous "F" camera, Japanese cars were not exported and so on. While Japan did have some good technology and far better steel mills than the US having rebuilt them all after World War II, none of it reached the U.S. What did arrive was of the same grade that the cheap junk from little villages in China produce now.

The HA-350 was built by a company called Trio. In the 1960's their radios were sold by US importers under their own name. The same also with Yaesu, which we will come to later. Trio later started to sell their products outside of Japan on their own and adopted the brand Kenwood. Eventually they changed their name to Kenwood and dropped the Trio entirely. My 1990 vintage Kenwood TS-430 has both on it.

I believe this is the same company that sells consumer electronics such as stereos, etc under the Kenwood name and they have an excellent reputation in their still very active ham radio business. I also believe that my beloved Kenwood mixer is no relation to them at all. In fact, Kenwood mixers are not sold in the US, except for the bottom of the line which is sold by Delonghi.

I'm not sure what is really going on with this radio. It seems to be working, but when I got it the tuning knob was so tight against the front of the radio, it could not be turned. I don't know if this was a problem or things shifted with age or it was dropped. :-) However it turns on lights up and you can hear static in it. It did not make any sounds at all when I first turned it on.

I think that was caused by there being so much corrosion on the switches, etc from sitting around, and the electrolytic capacitors no longer working well due to lack of use. Electrolytic capacitors are devices for storing electricity usually for very short periods of time. They are used to smooth out alternating (household) power into DC used by radios, computers, etc.

You may remember the scandal in 2002-2003 with Taiwanese exploding capacitors. This was caused by the electrolyte (the liquid inside) missing a critical component and they did not "age" well. Six months was about how long they lasted. The ones in this radio are around 44 years old, I found what I think is a date code of day 245 year 4 inside it. While most Japanese radios of the period used Japanese years (from the date of crowning of the current emperor) for date codes, Lafayette (and Radio Shack) used dates as they would in the US, so it probably is 1964.

Using what little signal generator I have, I was able to determine it works but is almost "deaf". I don't know where the problem with it lies, I'll have to investigate it more. Ham radios of that era were generally far less sensitive than their modern counterparts, around 1970 or so there was a "quantum leap" in the sensitivity of ham radios.

There were some radios with sensitivity as good as modern ones, but they were very expensive. If you could get one military surplus they were affordable otherwise they were too expensive for the average ham to buy.

Back when I lived in the US, I had a tube tester and spare tubes, I sold them all when I moved here in 1996. To be honest, I never expected to see another tube again in my life, except picture tubes (CRT). I assume if I had gone a few more years without these radios, I would have converted all my TV's and monitors to LED/LCD technology and really would have been "tube free".

So if you are reading this and happen to be in Israel and have a tube tester and a stash of tubes, please let me know. Or even know where I can find one.

More on the other radios later.

Geoff.

radio day

Last night I received another gift. :-)

I use the smiley because I'm not sure my wife agrees that it is a gift. It was three ham radios from the 1960-1970s. They all use tubes, although one of them has 4 transistors in it. The first one is a Lafayette HA-350.

The HA-350 is a ham band only receiver. Lafayette was the competition to Radio Shack. At the time they sold the Ha-350 there was a going business in ham radios, parts for experiementers and CB radio. CB was less than 10 years old then and had still not "caught on". It was not until the cheap transistorized CBs of the 1970's did they become noticed.

During the 1976 oil shortage there was a US wide trucker's strike over the high price of gasoline. Although you needed a license to operate a CB, you did not need one to buy a radio, and almost every night every long haul trucker had one in his cab.

That's where Radio Shack and Lafayette diverged, both sold CBs, but Radio Shack specialized in them. This lead to Radio Shack being what it is today, a store that sells cell phones, cheap technology toys and satellite dishes.

Layfayette took another direction and was bought out by J.C. Penny. Penny made some big mistakes with the way they tried to expand the company and Lafayette folded and it's brands gone forever in about two years.

Laser printer.

It's been a long time since I posted anything to this blog. I've been bogged down in politics and did not want to express them here. After all this was supposed to be a technology blog, not a political blog. I had thought about starting a separate political blog and just decided it was not worth it. No matter which side you were on, which candidate you loathed or loved, you could find a blog to fit your point of view. There was no need for me to add to that.

Meanwhile, I got a laser printer. At one time when we were in full swing with the company I used to be part of, I had more printers in more places than I needed. Most of them were old and scrounged, but they printed. We live in an apartment with an office underneath. Upstairs I have a small corner of my living room dedicated to a communications which includes a computer I use as a file server and router. There is also a computer running MythTv we use as a DVD and networked file player. The are both getting pretty old, but it's beyond my means to replace them.

At one time the router/file server had a laser printer connected to it. My wife had an HP inkjet printer connected to her computer. It came as a package with a long defunct HP 2mp digital camera. The camera was great, although slow, but it failed the spilled Kool-Aid test.

Downstairs I had another laser printer, a black and white HP inkjet, a low end Epson color inkjet and a QMS postscript laser printer. The QMS and the upstairs laser printers must have been 10 years old by that time.
I also had an HP plotter for those nice line drawings and printed circuit layouts we never did.

My oldest son lived about a block away and due to the way the cable modems were set up, he had a fixed IP address on the cable network, but not on the Internet. I used that to my advantage and set up an OPENSSL ppp tunnel to his apartment with a print server and file server there.

They were all connected via CUPS, software for controlling printers and managing print jobs. It was open source, meaning you could use it for free, but you had to pay for support. Apple used it with MacOS X and eventually bought the product.

Things move on and the laser printers used too much electricity, took too long to print and took up too much space. Not only that but I had very little to print. My wife's printer was replaced with an all-in-one printer, scanner, copier and fax from HP. It uses a color inkjet printer. My Epson printer failed because the ribbon cable to the printheads got a nick in it. The other HP printer got sticky rollers as they all do if you don't use them.

My son moved away and is now married, so his takes care of his own computer and printer problems.

So we were down to one printer and that got used for 4-5 pages a week. Not much of a load.

The other day I fixed a computer for a friend and used some blank DVDs to backup her files. She was so happy, she took me to lunch at the mall and while we were there we went into Office Depot to buy replacements. She offered to buy me a gift and I chose the laser printer. I know that sounds like a lot, but it was a cheap Samsung laser printer model ML-1610. It is gratefully appreciated.

It's small, compact, and uses a lot less power than old ones. Full tilt, it uses 300 watts, about one third of the power the old printers used. In sleep mode it uses 6 watts and it does not keep the fuser hot, the way the old ones did, so it really only uses 6 watts until it you print something. You can leave it in sleep mode as long as you want without a surprise in the electric bill.

Print quality is pretty good. I'm used to inkjets and 300dpi laser printers, this one is 600. I can't say anything about speed because I have yet to print anything big on it, and the pages I have printed were from computers in another room. I set it up in the living room computer corner.

Using CUPS was relatively simple. There is a driver for it from Samsung and an open source driver that did not work. Once I figured out that I had to have a recent version of Ghostscript (a postscript interpreter for the computer), the driver worked. The beauty of using CUPS is not only does it control the printers, it has a simple interface to Windows and it provides postscript support. Files sent to it as "raw" files, i.e. print files it understands from Windows, are passed through to the printer. Postscript files are first RIPed (translated) from postscript to the printer's format by CUPS calling Ghostscript, without my doing anything. So I can share the printer between UNIX (MacOS/Solaris), Linux, and Windows. Using Netatalk, which I already had running, I can also print on it as if it were a networked Apple Laserwriter with my old Macs.

To my wife and sons who use Windows, it looks just like a regular networked printer and uses the regular printer settings and control panel. My middle son who has his own computer always did his homework on his mother's computer because it has Microsoft Office and the printer.

I recently installed OpenOffice on his computer and last night he wrote a book report (in Hebrew) on it and printed on the laser printer. I did not even know he was doing it until he came over and showed me the results, which he liked.

My youngest son was introduced to OpenOffice at school last year, but so far has shown no interest in doing any word processing. He spends his computer time with flash games, a multiplayer shooter (LAN game) in contest with his brother and watching YouTube. He goes to the Lego web page to look up his favorite toys and then "cut and pastes" their names into the YouTube search.

BTW, as for materials cost, the printer, complete with a 1000 page "starter" toner cartridge, cost 60 NIS ($20) less than a 2000 page regular toner cartridge. The printer has a "toner save" mode which uses 40% less toner, but I don't know if that means if I use it, the printer will get 1000 or 1400 pages from the original cartridge.

Geoff.