Lifehack: Buying batteries on eBay

A quick one for today. This started for me last week when the wheel sensors for my tire pressure monitoring system gave me a warning that the batteries in them were low.

No problem. I checked the manual and they took BR1225 batteries.

At work I wandered into the Bartell’s in the adjoining building looking for them and the answer came back negative. I checked online and the going rate was on the order of $4-6 per cell and I needed two of them.

Enter eBay.

I got 5 for $4.99 shipped.

While it wasn’t the instant gratification of walking out of the store with them in hand, it’s worth the wait. And for next time I already have the replacements.

I did the same thing when I needed some calculator batteries. (Or they were for something… eventually some found their way into a calculator) Instead of buying three for $6.00, I got a flat of 100 for the same price. Even if they go bad quicker… I’m still way ahead of the curve!

Proper packing part 2

Today I learned that U-Hauls stores all over the country (at least according the one in Auburn, WA) have a bin of boxes that have been dropped off to reuse. The boxes in this box (meta… whoa) are free.

I also learned that the magic foam stuff from Sealed Air is damn fast stuff.

I wish I had this on video, but I remembered that I would wish I had this on video after I had already packed things. From the moment you pop the thing under the “A” label and the time that things start working is around 10 seconds. From the time it starts working and pops the second inner bag to the time you have to have gotten things set correctly is around 15 seconds.

And it gets hot. Like steaming hot. It has steam vents hot.

Then in around three minutes it’s set hard. You get a steaming hot, custom molded foam packing material. It’s pretty damn nice stuff.

I also learned that just taking boxes to a random shipping store that handles all the carriers is the right thing to do… FedEx was around $20 cheaper than UPS.

So I wound up saving around $50 from UPS’s quote to pack (boxes were free, and I used ~ $30 of the magic foam), and a further $20 on shipping. Win.  :-)

Proper packing

I took a stereo receiver and some speakers to a UPS store to ship to my brother today.

First, let me say that the notion of a stereo receiver is very much a strange thing now. It’s not stereo (though it has that mode) nor does it really receive. It’s a glorified switch from inputs to outputs and an n-way amplifier.

But I digress.

It turns out that UPS stores have no idea how to pack one of these things. Not only that, but they want to overcharge for the privilege of not packing one of these things.

An amplifier like this is a big and heavy thing with corners. What you don’t want is to have all the weight land on the corners. What you get if you just use bubble wrap and packing peanuts is a shifting load that will eventually do just that.

Oh, and you’ll get charged 80-odd dollars for this.  :-O


A 20x20x20″ box is not $12.80. You can buy these one-off at U-Haul for $4. In quantities of 10 they go down to $2.20 from ULine. In bigger quantities it’s even cheaper from random sources.

Proper packing in this case is something like InstaPak expanding foam packaging. I wish I didn’t have to buy a carton of these, but at least I can pack things correctly to get it there in one piece.

It’s nice I have a ULine nearby to get this stuff.


In case you were wondering where exactly I went on my little adventure you can see for yourself by downloading the GPX from my Garmin.

I’ve done a little massaging to it to combine it into one file instead of parted out into a dozen smaller ones.

It’s all there except one tiny bit (maybe a mile) when I was camping at Lava Beds National Monument when I rode the bike up the hill to get some phone reception because I couldn’t walk up the hill due to my ankle being all wonky from a twist.

I’m also working on doing some more analysis of the data to see if I can eek out some more tidbits of goodness from it. There’s simple things like max speed and the like, but I’m interested in other things too… I wonder what I can pull out?

Bank of America – “Spear Phishing” – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about a suspicious call I got from “Bank of America.”

Today I called up the real Bank of America based on a recent statement. No surprise I wasn’t able to find the elusive number that the caller gave me.

Today I learned that if you send two payments for less than full payment amount they both get applied to principle. Even if in sum they are more than the payment.

Basically what happened is that escrow amount went up and I’d already sent in the old payment based on my bank’s autopay. Then I added some more to more than make up the difference.

It turns out that systems over there are stupid.

Also, the phone call was a bogus collections call. It wasn’t phishing at all… but you could make a training tape with it for showing what phishing feels like.


It’s at least taken care of.

Spear phishing

So I got a call at my work number today…

“Can I talk to George Burgyan?”


“I’m calling on behalf of Bank of America. I need to speak to you about your N 83rd Street property, but first I need to verify that I’m talking to the right person; can you verify the last four digits of your social security number?”

“No. You called me. May I ask what this is regarding?”

“Your property on N 83rd Street. May I get the last four digits of your social security number?”

“No. Can you email me what this is regarding?”


Warning: Do not give personally identifiable information to someone that calls you.

Later, before I left I got the same call. This time I was clear that I wanted to get a URL that had a callback number that I could verify was actually from Bank of America.


Google that. Here, I’ll help.

Scam city.

No reference on B-of-A’s site either. Figures.

If someone calls asking for personal info to “verify,” don’t do it. They called you, you need to verify them!

Teardown Tuesday: Xenon HID Ballast

I was hoping to have more insight into this… but there’s too much potting to make it worth the hassle.

To make a long story short, my headlight died on my bike a couple weeks ago. I’ve replaced the headlights with HID lights. Shh… don’t tell the authorities. I have to say that they are a crapload better than the original halogen bulbs.

Well, there’s three things that can go wrong:

  1. Power isn’t being fed to the assembly
  2. The ballast took a crap
  3. The bulb burned out

Given that I have two of everything (also swapped the high beam) it makes the diagnosis easy.

I just unplugged the high beam’s ballast and attached it to the running light and it lit up fine. I also measured the voltage at the source and sure enough I had 13.8V just the way it should. The ballast it was. Until the replacement showed up I swapped things around so I had a working running light and the dead ballast was attached to the high beam.

Since then I got a new ballast and here’s the old, dead one.

That’ll knock you on your ass. Watch out.

Being an automotive thing, everything will be potted to hell. Same with the back side:

The gap in there isn’t anything to worry about. There was an additional backing board that was sealed to silicon potting stuff.

A bit of screwdriver work freed up a bit. Nothing of real interest down on the ass-end of the board. The only things that are mildly interesting are the long, non-solder-masked traces that got hit with the wave solder to increase the current carrying capacity of the traces.

There’s an isolation slot cut in there as well to separate the high (23KV) section from the low voltage side on the left.

Interesting. There’s a PIC16 on the riser board. No doubt this guy is running the show.

In many ways it’s interesting to see that everything has a microcontroller in it now. I was looking around for an in-circuit programming connector but I can’t see one at first glance. I wonder if I could pull the programming off the chip itself. Hmmm… Here’s the data sheet for the PIC16F716 in case you’re interested.

Connected on through to the final GIANT output inductor (the big box with the wires coming out) is a bank of four IRF840A power MOSFETs. I would have expected them to be ganged up in parallel, but from an examination of the board it seems that’s not the case. There’s another small riser board next to them that control each of the gates individually. Go figure.

The flow, as best I can tell, goes something like this:

  1. Input
  2. Filtering caps
  3. First stage boost converter running through the transformer
  4. A bit more filtering
  5. High power MOSFETs driving the final…
  6. Inductor/capacitor module to provide the high voltage output

All orchestrated by the microcontroller.

Sorry that I don’t have more info. I was hoping it would’ve been more interesting, but I didn’t really know what to expect.

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Taking for granted

The weekend had an interesting event happening: the Geocaching Block Party.

It was just down in Fremont and Ennie and I decided to head over there. It was an uneventful ride over on the #5 bus that stops on Greenwood more-or-less at the end our street.

The web site said something about vendors and food trucks and such. No problem. There are plenty of similar things that happen all over town here in Seattle.

We arrived to a far bigger crowd than we could have anticipated.

The lines for preregistered folks filled the courtyard of Adobe building. In line we heard bunches of languages other than English. Wandering around and getting some of the caches (which were way easier to find when there’s a line waiting to fill the logbook) we talked to a guy from Florida.

It was as though this was a pilgrimage to the center of the universe. (Well, it was if you believe the signs that Fremont is in fact the center of the universe) Shirts from all over. Many from geocaching events. Some from previous years of the block party “Geocaching HQ — Been there.”

After we nabbed a few of the caches we walked up past the troll and caught the #5 back home.

Sometimes it’s really easy to take all the awesomeness of living in a real city for granted.

A blast from the past – ComparisonMarket edition

Last week I fired up my Parallels VM running Windows 7 and launched Firefox.

This is an old VM. I’ve been toting around since 2010 and has jumped from machine to machine several times. This is it’s most recent incarnation running on my iMac.

What popped up surprised me.

A lot.

The last time I used Firefox on this VM was back some time in 2011 I’m guessing. Firefox was still version 6. (It’s up to version 31 as I write this) I was working at QuinStreet at the time and I suppose I was working on something for that.

Up came this screen:

I’m quite certain this brings back memories for a lot of people.

While I’m not a huge fan of QuinStreet, I’m also not going to be a dick and post the actual URL of the server’s debug page. People that worked on the system I’m sure can guess since it wasn’t a secret even when I was at ICOM. (You can’t really do anything bad with it, just start quotes.)

Honestly, I’m surprised it’s still exactly the same — and still up.

This is one of the first things we coded when we started working on what was then called ComparisonMarket. It started off life as an ASP page, then a few years later it morphed into an ASPX. The interface stayed exactly the same though because we didn’t want to mess up anyone that was testing using that page.

I remember working on all of the features listed on it.

It just feels like a creepy time capsule in a way.

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