Floating Shelves

We need to find some “floating shelves” after the post about our new surround sound system the other day. You know, the kind that look like they’re just floating on the wall. Since we have a flat screen hanging on the wall – what the heck do we need a TV stand for? I want to get that audio equipment off the TV stand, take it out, mount it on the wall and free up room in my living room!

I’d been thinking about this for some time, and the floating shelf concept was one I had in the back of my head, but hadn’t seen anything even remotely like what I wanted at the store. I took 5 minutes to search Amazon today – and lo and behold they have exactly what I need!

This set of floating shelves was barely over $50, much cheaper than anything else I saw, it’s quality and can hold heavy weights like a big audio video receiver, they are stylish, come in three colors, and very functional! It’s exactly what I wanted and they are on order now! Most of us don’t have entertainment centers anymore, it’s usually some kind of TV stand (that holds less). Or maybe your TV is now wall mounted, and you have nowhere to put your Xbox, Playstation, WiiU, or surround sound receiver?

This works perfectly:

Floating shelves

Here’s a slighter cheaper alternative version of black floating shelves:

Black floating shelves

Finally we really liked this version (got it for our basement) because it’s wall mounted, appears “floating”, but it also has room on top for a sound bar. This is really cool, and it was surprising how affordable it was:

Floating wall mounted shelf

[EASYBAY]floating shelves[/EASYBAY]

Where to Find A Cheap GoPro

My son is 9, and like most kids his age he’s into YouTube. He likes to make his own videos and wanted a cheap GoPro camera. I found out quickly that there really is no such thing as a cheap GoPro. For the cheapest entry level version (like the Hero) you’re talking $130 – $150, and they go up into the hundreds fromm there. He also wanted it for Christmas, and there’s the whole “I don’t want a single present to be half of my Christmas” problem as well. So let the Google searching begin for a reasonably priced GoPro clone or alternative.

There are all kinds of cheap online gadget stores selling sketchy merchandise from China and other foreign lands. You never know what you’re going to get, or how long it’s going to take to get it. An HD camera is a little bit different from a phone case for $10. It has to be durable, easy to use and configure, and take good video.

I have been watching the Xiaomi company for some time. For last few years at least. Who is Xiaomi you ask? They are a Chinese electronics company, in fact you might call them the Apple of China. A few years back, within a single year, they became the #1 phone company in China (overtaking Apple). In fact they have their own hardcore cult base of fans (just like Apple). The clincher is – their products cost about half of what Apple’s do. A lot of tech blogs were talking about Xiaomi last year.

Xiaomi has been trying to expand into a lifestyle brand, and they not only sell iPad alternatives as well as phones, they also sell fitness bands and other products. Including headphones, a fitness band, an air purifier, portable chargers, and even flat screen TV’s with their built-in alternative to Apple TV. What else do they sell? A GoPro alternative called the “Yi”.

This is what the Xiaomi Yi looks like. There are two versions, white, and blue/green. I chose to show the blue/green because this is the one we purchased. It cost about $80 (free shipping with Prime – woot!).

gopro alternative

So when I first found the Yi the first thing that impressed me was the price. It was under $100. I could feel way more comfortable about giving this to my 9 year old to fool around with. Next I checked the specs. It was 1080p and H.264, and had a wide angle lens and noise reduction. It had bluetooth with remote control via an app, as well as wifi connectivity. I really didn’t expect a camera this cheap to have all of those features. Next I perused the reviews, and it had nearly 4.5 stars on Amazon from hundreds of people. They say that the GoPro model with competing features is almost 2-3 times as much (meaning this has more than their entry level model).

Suffice to say we decided to order the camera. It had nice packaging no English instructions, but that really wasn’t a problem (for us). My son installed the Yi camera app on his Android tablet. It showed in seconds how to hold down the wifi button on the side to connect to the app as a remote control. He initially got great delight in running around the house with the camera as we watched the video on his tablet from the couch. We also figured out that the camera has both a video and camera mode with the simple press of a button. He liked the fact that he could just walk around the house snapping pictures as well.

So about what we didn’t know. We didn’t think about the fact that it had an micro SD card slot and no onboard storage. So we had to run to the store and get one because he wanted to use it that day (which was way more expensive than Amazon). We also didn’t think about the fact that to edit the video, he would have to take the microSD card out of the camera and connect it to the computer to download the video. The first time he did this, he jammed the micro SD card into the SD card slot of my computer (frying the card and wasting $20 instantly). I’m just letting you know so you can prepare in advance, it has nothing to do with the quality of the camera itself (which has been great).

So would we recommend the Xiami Yi as a cheap GoPro alternative? Yes we would, especially at this pricepoint. You Oumers 16 and 1 Xiaomi Yi Camera Accessories Kit. For $23 this thing had it all. You get a selfie stick, handlebar mounts, head mounts, chest mount, wrist mount, dashboard mount – you name it! Now my son can mount the camera or use it practically anywhere, which makes it 100x more usable.

gopro accessories kit

The last thing I would recommend is getting your micro SD card on Amazon as well. You can get a 16GB micro SD Kingston card right now for like $5. We paid $21.99 for the same damn thing at CVS because we had to have it that day. I so wish we would’ve had some lying around the house.

Last, you might want to check out this YouTube video. It helps you get started in just about 5 minutes.

If you end up getting a Yi – let us know, we’d like to see your video!

How to Wall Mount a TV

Years ago we wall mounted the first flat screen TV we ever owned. It was probably 2007, and there weren’t a lot of accessories at that time beyond a wall mount. Even though the majority of people still seem to just get a TV stand, there are many that enjoy having the big flat screen mounted directly to the wall. The difference is that now there are many more options than before. Also – with the advent of Prime, I usually just buy everything I need on Amazon, which I will explain as I go.

How to Choose a Wall Mount

There used to be but one affordable wall mount solution – the standard flush mount (which you can still buy today). However, now you can affordably purchase a wide variety of wall mounts. Last year we purchased a standard wall mount on a black Friday sale at Wal-Mart for $29.99. The same wall mount sells at Meijer’s for about $70. Most of the big box stores have something similar for $50 – $99. This is insane. You can get a high quality wall mount from $13-$32 on Amazon delivered to your home in 2 days with free shipping (with Prime).

Here’s a basic flat screen TV wall mount for 20-55″ screens that is a flush mount. It is not only the cheapest quality TV mount you can buy, but it also comes with a free HDMI cable and a level. I trust Cheetah mounts because they are quality and have sold tens of thousands on Amazon (and they have a lifetime guarantee). I have never seen a quality mount in a retail store for this price, let alone one with an HDMI cable and level in the box.

Cheetah Flat Screen TV Mount

So mounting your TV directly flush against the wall can look really great, but it can be a real pain in the butt if you ever need to plug something into one of the inputs on the back. Some TV’s had side mounts which make it easier, but a lot of the big ones have then on the back side. We have a 60″ Samsung LED Smart TV which has the mounts on the back. If we need to plugin a hard drive, or HDMI device it takes two of us to take the TV down, and then put it back up. Also the last time we had to do this I noticed that the main HDMI input cable is being bent, because our flush mount is pressing it right up against the wall. What to do?

If you have this issue what you need are some 90 degree HDMI cable adapters. Just plug them into the input, and plug your cable into them – problem solved. I was really happy when I found out you could get a pack of 4 for just $7.

I90 degree HDMI adapters

There are also all kinds of right angle and 90 degree USB adapters available as well – in case you need to hookup a cable for that 5TB hard drive, or even to make it easier to use a USB memory stick, Roku, or Chromecast.

So since wall mounts are your basic mount, what are your other options? We also have a TV mounted in our bedroom wall. We watch this one from the bed. If you want to do this what you are looking for is a TV that has about 15 degrees of tilt – to make it easier to watch while lying down. If you want to the ability to move the TV to a left or right viewing angle (to say watch the living room TV from the kitchen or another room), then what you need is a wall mount with an articulating arm. Thankfully enough – Cheetah sells wall mounts for each of these scenarios for $26 and $32 respectively

How to Cover the Wires for a Wall Mounted TV

So if you’ve successfully mounted your flat screen, LED, or plasma TV to the wall the next question naturally becomes “how do I cover the wires”? There are all kinds of solutions – I think I’ve seen it all because I did all kinds of searches to see what I could find. If your doing something similar you may or may not find the same things depending on what search words you use. I was using things like cord shield, cord cover, cable cover, cord coverup, wire covers, and all kinds of other things. It looks like “cord cover for wall mounted TV” might get you the most relevant results.

So – after all that searching (and buying multiple solutions), we found one particular cord cover that really stands out. It’s made by a company called Electriduct, and these are really commercial level quality products that should last for years and years. They make cable covers in various sizes and colors to match just about anything you have, including ones that are metal and wood patterns. They are also available in various widths. Find the size and color cord cover that works best for you here.

Cable Shield TV cord cord cover

Once you have your TV mounted and cords all tidied up – you might want to also Learn How to Stream Anything Free with KODI, we really like the new Android TV streaming solutions that are now available!

Stream Anything Free – Cut Cable with KODI

More and more people are cancelling cable and “cutting the cord”, then just using the Internet to watch TV. Most modern flat screen TV’s are equipped with apps, and most of us seem to have at least Netflix and Amazon video – and some have added Hulu. There are also all kinds of devices you can buy, like the Amazon Fire stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, and the Roku. These are all the normal ways people cut the cord and cancel cable.

However, there is something new that’s getting a lot of mainstream attention. There is a gaggle of people who still download things from the Internet to watch. It used to be just movies, but people are also downloading TV shows as well. Yesterday I saw a list of the most pirated shows of 2015 and Big Bang Theory was #2 (and you can watch it on regular broadcast TV for free!). There’s free open source software called KODI which anyone can download and install to create a home theatre PC. A few years back this only would have been possible on a nearly full blown computer. However, phones and tablets are so powerful now – the processors inside them are comparable to what were previously available only in larger computers just a few years back. That’s why Intel announced it’s PC USB stick this year with Windows 10 pre-loaded for just a little over a hundred bucks.

Since KODI is a free OS you can easily download it and install on a wide range of devices yourself. Just type “How to install KODI” and Google auto-complete will show you some examples of what people are already doing:
How to install KODI

While setting up KODI on your own might be easy for a techie, electronics manufacturers are taking advantage of the opportunity to make this easier for the average person. There are dozens and dozens of “KODI boxes” for sale on Amazon for you to choose from. First you may be asking “what does this give me over a Chromecast, Roku, or Firestick?”

How KODI Works

Even though KODI itself is an operating system for PC’s, when you buy a “KODI box” you are purchasing essentially an Android TV streaming media box. This is also probably the best way to explain it to other people when asked. KODI used to be called XMBC (Xbox Media Center). Presumably because it was well liked among gamers, and also because it (I believe) was initially designed as an alternative Linux OS you could install on the original Xbox 1.0 console years back. KODI is free and legal as an OS itself. But much like your phone that has apps, KODI has “add-ons” that can be installed for free. Some are legal, some are sketchy.

People like KODI because it gives you access to content for free that your normally might not even have access to. Outside the normal Neflixy type apps, many cord cutters watch “TV” directly from websites like YouTube, College Humour, Crackle, etc. The advantage of a KODI box is you can install add-ons centered around the communities and content you like best from a single easy to use interface. You can watch content from all over the globe in nearly any language or region, much of it as it happens in live streams. You will literally have the ability to program your KODI box to be whatever you want your cable to be.

If you get a KODI box, you could for example install the “Super Repository” to gain access to easy installation of as many add-ons as possible:

Purchasing a KODI Box

If you start to search for a KODI box to purchase you might be overwhelmed by all of the different options and prices. I would make a few recommendations:

  • Get a package that includes a remote: We will show show examples below with remotes, you really need one to take full advantage of the system
  • Get enough processing power: If an extra $10-$20 doubles your processing or video power don’t scrimp. You’ll likely be using this device a lot, get something quad core or better
  • Video counts too: Looking toward the future you might want to get one that’s 4K UHD right now so you don’t have to buy again when you get a better TV
  • Be conscious of storage limits: Either make sure your device has enough internal storage for your future use or note how expandable it is. With a KODI box you can watch TV online, but you can also utilize any media you have of your own (pictures, music, video). So be aware of how much you might need, or at least the limits of the available ports. Some might only allow 32-64GB SD cards, and others might have a USB 3.0 port you can attach a 5TB hard drive to.
  • Get the latest version of Android: Don’t buy a KODI box with an older version of Android – you might miss out on the latest features! As of this writing you want at least Android 5.x, but certainly don’t buy a KODI box with any of the Android 4.x flavors (which are severely outdated)

Here’s a KODI box you can get for $75, that has Android Lollipop 5.1, 1GB RAM and 8GB internal storage. It has all the ports to expand and add via SD and/or USB. The box is only $60 when you consider that the included keyboard cost $15 by itself. It’s capable of video display up to UHD 4K, and has a quad core CPU.

Kodi box Android 5.1

Here’s an Octacore KODI box for just $80, but again – you can get a killer keyboard for just $15.

Octacore KODI box.

I’ve given you just a few examples. There are literally hundreds of KODI boxes for sale on Amazon. I’ve also given you most of the criteria to look for (be sure to get gigabit LAN too), but reading the reviews will help a lot as well.

Good luck cutting your cable cord!

Cheap Lightning Cable

If you’ve had an Apple device for any number of years, you know that sometime in your future you’re going to need a replacement charging cable. Our house is split – I use Android, and my wife uses Apple. She has an iphone, and I have a Galaxy. She has an ipad, and I have a Nexus tablet. It doesn’t help that our 8 year old has an ipad mini, and that he uses my wife’s charging cables all the time. He’s pretty rough on them, always stretching and straining the ends until something’s worn enough to not work anymore.

I have made the late night run to Wal-Mart to get the classic Apple charging cable for my wife – and it usually amounts to paying $20 for a single cord (or more). I have also learned over time that paying the higher amount to get the Belkin cable is almost always a better idea. It was after this one time that I decided to get on Amazon and buy a backup charging cord. I found an awesome deal that included not one but 5 different Apple charging cables in various colors for around $12.99. This seemed more than awesome, until we found they lasted only about 4-6 weeks. Sometimes when you buy something on Amazon “off the boat”, the savings aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Recently I had to order yet another Apple lightning cable, and again (as if I hadn’t learned my lesson) I wanted to find the cheapest one available. When I did the search I was surprised to find that they had one available in the “Amazon Basics” line. Previously I’d purchased both USB and HDMI cables in the Amazon Basics line because they were both cheap and high quality. Amazon’s version is actually “Apple certified” – which you can’t say about all those import knock-off versions.

This is what I purchased:

It’s only about 10 bucks, but they have a 6 foot version that’s double the length for only $2 more.

Airbnb Copycat Sites

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last year about one of the fastest growing sites https://www.airbnb.com/.  Airbnb is a place for a normal person to list their home or apartment short term rentals.

In some places this has become illegal:
https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=airbnb+illegal

While most people have had great experiences, a small percentage have had complete disaster:
https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=airbnb+nightmare

I have become fascinated lately with the amount of websites that have an airbnb type service for something else.  It’s rare when a new idea spawns so many copycat sites.

Airbnb for digs:  http://us.holidog.com/
Airbnb for 3D printers:  http://www.3dhubs.com/
Airbnb for campsites:  http://www.hipcamp.com/
Airnb for workspaces:  http://sparechair.me/
Airbnb for outdoor gear:  http://www.outdoors.io/
Airbnb for boats: https://boatbound.co
Airbnb for toilets:  http://www.airpnp.co/
Airbnb for kitchens: http://www.suppershare.com/
Airbnb for families: https://www.kidandcoe.com/
Airbnb for parking spots:  https://www.spot-park.com/
Airbnb for energy:  https://www.ohmconnect.com/
Airbnb for driveways:  https://www.carmanation.com/

Amazon and Google Ara Cell Phones

Random its of technology for the day.

Amazon is putting together a smartphone:
http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/15/amazons-smartphone-gets-its-first-spy-shots-along-with-rumored-specs/?ncid=rss

Google’s Project Ara is creating a modular build your own phone system for 2015 release:
http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/15/5615880/building-blocks-how-project-ara-is-reinventing-the-smartphone
http://www.cnet.com/news/google-targeting-project-ara-phone-for-january-2015/

Facebook is working with drones to bring connectivity to all parts of the world:
http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/27/facebook-drones/

So what does Google do? Buy the company Facebook was reportedly looking at:
http://www.businessinsider.com/google-buys-drone-company-titan-aerospace-2014-4

Self Driving Cars

When I was a kid we all thought by now we’d be seeing flying cars and moving sidewalks. Like the Jetsons. Nothing has really happened to change our daily commutes, even the Segway – which was supposed to revolutionize transportation, largely did nothing.

If Google has anything to say about it, the near future (10-15 yrs) may include autonomous (driverless) cars. Does giving up the freedom of driving sound scary? Maybe. But one survey found that 90% of drivers would use a self-driving car is their insurance went down 80%.

Google has already driven a half million self-driven miles without a single accident.

Why would Google invest in this technology? So you can do more googly things in your car during the commute, of course.

Fixing the “No space left on disk error” – Ubuntu

Let’s say your on a Windows box, and then you install an Ubuntu VM with VirtualBox. Maybe you give it a default 4GB or 8GB HDD, and then you start installing the things you need to work in your environment. If you’re doing web development (like me), that would be Apache (Apache2), MySQL server, phpMyAdmin, or maybe XAMPP – and maybe some dev tools. Before you know it you’re out of space on your SDA1, SDA3, or whatever your system partition is.

Maybe you think that resizing your VM (your VDI file) will fix your problem, but really it won’t. You’ll get a larger HDD grow space in VirtualBox, but your system partition will still be out of space. There’s nothing you can do about this from within your Ubuntu VM, and there’s nothing you can do from within your VM settings in VirtualBox.

What you have to do is edit your partitions and give your system partion more space. First, download the gparted live CD.

Then, in your VM settings in VirtualBox go to “storage” and click “Add/CD Device” under your IDE controller and point to the iso gparted image you just downloaded. Save and spin up your VM again, and (if your boot order was CD first) you’ll boot into the gparted live CD.

ubuntu-boot-live-cd-virtual-box
How to add gparted livecd to your boot sequence in VirtualBox

If you need help, here’s a tutorial on resizing virtualbox partitions with gparted. If you’ve never used gparted before, you might also need this tutorial on how to move swap space and paritions with gparted as well, to learn how to move the unallocated space where you need it.

Once you move the space where you need it, restart your VM and you should be good to go!

Resize VirtualBox VDI

In VirtualBox by default usually your VM size is 8GB.  You might run out of space, and need a larger virtual machine.  Recently on a windows box (gack!) I had an Ubuntu VM spun up that needed more space – and there’s no way at all to do this in the GUI.

Low and behold, there’s a command for this!  Go to the command line in Windows (cmd.exe) and type the following:

“C:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe” modifyhd  “C:\users\myuser\VirtualBox VMs\Debian 6.0.3\Debian 6.0.3.vdi” –resize 16384

If you need to do this in Linux this is the command:

VBoxManage modifyhd natty.vdi –resize 12000

Now you have all the hard disk space you need!