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I am fortunate to live on an area that I have a few options for Internet Service Providers. Of the Comcast, AT&T, and WOW options that can choose from, I have been a happy WOW customer for years.

Their service is cheap and relatively reliable. They have rolled out some free speed upgrades in my area. I started as a customer back in 2015 paying for 25 Mbps down, and now, still paying roughtly the same rate, give me 200 Mbps down.

That would be great and all, except for the infrastructure upgrades WOW has done over the past year or so resulted in random outages that appear to be localized to my house. Calling tech support only results in wasted troubleshooting time and being told a technician would have to be dispatched to find the problem. Since the problem pretty consistently resolves itself after 3-12 hours, this would be a waste of time and the minimum $50 for a tech visit. Additionally, it only seems to show up when it’s raining outside. So unless I can schedule a technician to show up during a rainstorm, I don’t think they’re going to be able to diagnose the problem.

According to Motorola, my cable modem’s manufacturer, the upstream levels should be 37 to 48 dBmV for my 4 downstream channels. Mine was averaging 55 dBmV! The equivalent of my modem “screaming” at WOW and them just barely hearing it.

Cable modem’s channel info, pre-upgrade

So how do you get those numbers down? The same way you increase volume of your own voice in a noisy situation, an amplifier. Whereas a human voice can use a megaphone or microphone and speakers to increase its volume, a cable modem needs an amplifier with active return to increase its signal back to the ISP. The active return is the important part, that is the bit of tech that actually shouts back to WOW. An amp by itself only increases incoming signal, kind of like only wearing a hearing aid.

A few Youtube videos and web searches later and I’d made up my mind on the PCT-MA-81010-1A. Simple, cheap, and available. The device arrived quickly and without issue, I’d recommend doing business with PCT without hesistation.

The PCT-MA-81010-1A with Active Return

Biggest problem I encountered once I received the device was figuring out what ends to connect to which coax cables. The power coax was pretty self-evident, but the end to connect to my cable modem and the end to connect to the utility were less so. Fortunately I was able to find the answer on some YouTube channel.

Below, you can see that my upstream power levels are a good 10dBmV lower than without the amp.

Success! Ideal Power levels on upstream channels.

I discovered Vagrant earlier this week and have become immediately smitten. As I bounce around from my PC to my laptop to my work laptop, I have a lot of dev environments to manage. Vagrant manages all of that business for me now!
The TL;DR of this post is that you need to be sure you are running the most recent version of VirtualBox. Version 4.3.16 as of this post. I was running version 4.3.14 and still had trouble.

I have a Dell Latitude with the usual integrated Intel graphics w/ additional Nvidia or AMD graphics card configuration. In my case, it’s an Nvidia card. I have it docked in a replicator and outputting to 2 monitors and the laptop screen.
Vagrant is supposed to make managing VMs super-easy, so I was a bit confused as to why I couldn’t even boot a vanilla Ubuntu/trusty64 vm. From a DOS prompt, my “vagrant up” would yield:

...everything looks good...
==> default: Booting VM...
==> default: Waiting for machine to boot. This may take a few minutes...
The guest machine entered an invalid state while waiting for it
to boot. Valid states are 'starting, running'. The machine is in the
'poweroff' state. Please verify everything is configured
properly and try again.

If the provider you're using has a GUI that comes with it,
it is often helpful to open that and watch the machine, since the
GUI often has more helpful error messages than Vagrant can retrieve.
For example, if you're using VirtualBox, run vagrant up while the
VirtualBox GUI is open.

The error says to try it again with the VirtualBox GUI open, so I do that. But as soon as I open VirtualBox, I get a popup with another error.
VirtualBox.exe - Bad Image
C:\Program Files\NVIDIA Corporation\CoProcManager\detoured.dll is either not designed to run on Windows or it contains an error. Try installing the program again using the original installation media or contact your system administrator or the software vendor for support.

With some quick DuckDuckGo-fu, I find a VirtualBox ticket detailing exactly my issue, specifically comment #3. The last comment has the solution, just update to the newest version of VirtualBox. Just be forewarned, if you are lazy like me, you will try the “Check for Updates” feature inside VirtualBox and find that you are supposedly running the most recent version. But this feature doesn’t take into account tiny sub-dot releases. You will have to go directly to the VirtualBox website to download the latest.

After version 4.3.16 was installed, both issues disappeared. The Nvidia dll error upon opening VirtualBox as well as the command-line issue that was preventing vagrant from starting my VM.

My laptop is back up and running thanks to my new AC adapter from newegg.com.

I was operating under the delusion that I needed an OEM adapter for my laptop. Dell thinks that $56 is a fair price for the adapter I need. However, being the cheapskate wise consumer that I am, right before I was about to buy, I took a last look for some alternatives. I am so glad that I did. My trusted source for electronics, newegg.com, bailed me out with an awesome adapter for under $20 ($24 w/ shipping)! They have this superb battery finder tool that I used to find an adapter that they carried that was compatible with my Inspiron 1521. The cheap G Skill RAM I bought from them  back in April for my home PC is still going strong as well.  I had to buy 2 x 2Gb sticks to replace the two stick of mega-shit Super Talent RAM I got from a local computer store here in Greenville that died about a month after I installed. I am just waiting on the other two sticks to fail any day now.

But back to the topic at hand, the laptop has been running for 4 days consistently with this new power supply with no issues. I don’t anticipate any problems, but I’ll let you know if things take a turn for the worse. The ‘worst’ being that my shitty Inspiron electrocutes itself and I get to buy a new laptop. crosses fingers

I did some household chores this weekend.  A little bit of laundry, some cooking, grocery shopping for the upcoming week, and cleaning the guts of my laptop and Xbox 360.

It all started with a kink in my neck. A kink that developed because I had to lay on my stomach in the floor, in order to use my Dell Inspiron 1521. I had to use my laptop in the floor because the damn thing gets way too hot if I use it anywhere but directly over an A/C register. I finally got fed up with having to deal with this and decided to investigate the cause. ¬†I haven’t cleaned it since I bought it in 2007, so I figured maybe there was at least some dust accumulation inside. So I set about opening up the laptop to check things out.

Holy crap! The screws used to hold this thing together! There are so¬†many screws to remove in order to get to the motherboard. I suppose it might have been a bit easier, had I had a guide. But I couldn’t find one (Makes me wish I had taken photographs, so that I could help other Inspiron owners), so I had to wing it. After removing approximately 20 tiny¬†Phillips¬†head screws, I finally got to the internals of the system, and, sure enough, the heat sink was almost completely clogged with dust. I don’t have any canned air, but I blew that out easily enough with just my breath. Turns out, all of those years of blowing Nintendo cartridges were good for something. This resulted in a huge plume of dust being ejected from the¬†main-board¬†and directly into my face. I know, I’m so smart. So after I recovered from a sneezing fit, I proceeded on to phase 2 of my cleaning mission. In my search for the¬†nonexistent¬†Inspiron 1521¬†dis-assembly¬†guide, I happened across a forum mentioning Dell laptops and the shitty thermal paste that is used on their CPUs. I popped the heat sink off of the Athlon 2800+ and checked. True to the forum poster’s word, the bottom of the heat sink (and top of the CPU) were covered, not with a paste, but a coagulated grey solid. I don’t know if it was age or heat or just an inferior product, but there was no way this junk was going to transfer any heat in its current state. I easily scraped off the crud, cleaned the area with a bit of isopropyl alcohol and applied a thin line of Arctic Silver that I had in my tool kit. Knowing that I had at least reduced some of the problem areas in the internals, I excitedly reassembled the laptop. After having run it consistently for a few days now, I can tell you that the results have far exceeded my expectations. Everything is running much much cooler now, and quieter to boot because the exhaust fan isn’t working overtime any more.
With that cleaning successfully under my belt, I wondered if the same thing would help the xbox 360. I easily found this guide and set to taking apart my beloved 360. Once I got to the insides, yep, heat sink was clogged with dust.  Using a bit more caution this time around, I blew out the dust from this heat sink as well. A quick reassembly, and I can now report that the Xbox is noticeably more quiet.

Hopefully these cleanings will allow me to squeeze a little bit more performance and longevity out of these devices.

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