Slide Scanners

What to do when you’re retired and there’s a pandemic? Sort thru your thousands of photos and slides!

The photos were easy, and we can scan those on our all-in-one printer/scanner. But for slides you need a special device, and we got one of those this week.

“It’s going to take forever!” we said before. But I can tell you that I’ve done about 150 over a couple of evenings. Shove one in, press 2 buttons, shove in the next one, and so on. Take out the chip, use a little USB adapter to connect it to the PC, and copy all the files.

From there, you can take your time to edit, delete, improve, share… anything. And it’s pretty amazing how good these look (especially the ones from my folks’ wedding in 1948)!

NOT Amazon! This came from (cheaper with online coupon)

Refrigerator Alarms

One morning recently, I got up and came downstairs to find the refrigerator door hanging open. We had shoved something in a bit too tightly the night before, and it pushed the door open after we left. The fridge had been running all night; the temperature inside was in the mid-50s.

Yes, we had to throw some stuff out; fortunately our inventory was down. But it was time to look for a way to keep that from happening.

We ended up ordering two things, and are happy with both:

REFRIGERATOR DOOR ALARM: This little device sticks to the refrigerator door, with a magnet stuck to the freezer door just above it. As long as it senses the magnet, it’s happy. But open either door and it chirps. Keep the door open a while, and it chirps again. After a minute, it really starts complaining with a long and whiny BEEEP!!!

REFRIGERATOR DIGITAL THERMOMETER: While shopping for that little device, I ran across this. Two sensors–for the fridge and freezer–monitor the temperatures. A nice digital display hangs on the wall nearby.

I immediately found out our fridge and freezer were horribly maladjusted! The freezer was below zero; the fridge was in the upper 40s. I tweaked those two controls (they interact) over the next couple of days and they are now in the range recommended by various government agencies.

It’s also a real education about the variation of temperatures within the fridge. It’s about 15 degrees warmer in the door compartments than at the back wall (so now I know where to put my beer). The great thing is that you see these measurements without opening the door, which, of course, screws everything up.

The thermometer also has an alarm function which I’ve not yet set but will soon.

And the next step will be set up the Alexa SmartGuard function to listen for that alarm sound and, when it hears it, yell at us up in the bedroom. She can be trained to do things like that (for example, recognize the sound of a window breaking); we’ve not yet explored it.


OK, I know this is how Amazon watches my every move, and knows my every thought. But what don’t they know about me already?

We drank the Alexa Kool-Aid after doing a house sit for a very high-tech family in Oakland, California. “You’re going to love her!” they said, and I hope our eye-rolls were not visible.

But we quickly got used to saying “Alexa, play dinner jazz” or “Alexa, what’s the weather in Progreso?” or “Alexa, who won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005?” We ordered one while we were up there and brought her down with us.

We now have five of her, stationed in strategic locations. The most frequent use is to stream music wherever we are. (This requires a subscription to a service; we use Spotify for 99 pesos/month.) But we ask her questions, set timers and alarms (“Alexa, set a 30-minute timer” or “Alexa, set an alarm for 7:30AM Monday thru Friday.”), do conversions (“Alexa, how many grams in 13 ounces?”) and, of course, ask those Oscar questions.

But we also use her daily as an Intercom system. Our two offices are miles apart in our house, so I can just say “Alexa, drop in on Speranza’s office” and we can have a conversation.

We’re using a fraction of one percent of what she can do, but we continue to poke around. And she is very polite, sometimes offering to do more. (“Would you like me to set that alarm for you every day?”)

BY THE WAY: Remember the computer voice in Star Trek? Despite them being light years ahead of us, Alexa’s voice is completely realistic (maybe that’s what scares some folks).

A Second Monitor

I started using a second PC monitor many years ago.  At that time my PC was a big cream-colored box, and the two monitors were bulky, heavy, expensive TV-type things.

But the space, trouble and expensive were worth it.  I still say today, adding a second is the biggest productivity-increaser you can do.

Nowadays, most of us are working on a laptop, and that makes it far easier to add a second monitor!  You just plug it in to the HDMI connector on your laptop, and Windows will find it.  Go into your Display settings and you’ll find the place to tell Windows to “Extend my display onto this monitor.”  You have to tell Windows where the monitor physically is (mine is to the right and somewhat higher than the laptop), so that dragging windows from one to the other feels natural for  you.

Once you have your monitor working, you might also think about mounting it on the wall in front of  you.  As I’ve gone into literally hundreds of home and office workspaces over the years, maybe 1 out of 20 has the monitor up at eye level where it belongs.  Once that required unsightly plastic stackers (I piled up phone books, back when they existed) to raise the monitor, but modern flat-panel screens are very easy to mount on your wall.

(HINT:  if you’re doing this for the first time, you might want to get a piece of wood and stand it up between your desk and the wall.  Mount your monitor to THAT first; it’s much easier to work with wood screws and experiment with the height to get it just right.  Once you know where you want the monitor, you can take it off the board and then drill right thru the board to put your holes in the wall.)


LED Rolls of Lights

These things are amazing, easy to use, and really cheap.  There are now LED specialty shops all over the place (including two in Progreso on C.78 near the beach), and they’re sold at the big places like Niplito and (for more money) at Home Depot.  Easy to buy online too from places like Masluz.

A typical package has 5 meters of LED’s rolled up on a reel.  (Remember audio tapes and 8mm film?  It’s a reel like that.)  One end will have a connector on it, and you plug that into the power supply.  Plug the supply into an outlet and the whole strip lights up.

There are also LED strips made up of red green and blue (RGB) LEDs.  These will come with a controller that connects in between the strip and the power supply, as well as a little remote control the size of a credit card.  These strips let you change the colors, dim them, and even start them animating with constant color changes.

And what can you do with these things?

  • If you have a recessed area at the top of a wall, unroll a strip for beautiful indirect lighting.
  • Stick a strip under a shelf for even lighting along the entire length.
  • Light an entire china cabinet by running strips vertically down the sides.
  • If you buy a strip rated for use outdoors, string it along anything to light the area.

MOUNTING THE STRIP:  The flexible LED strips come with an adhesive strip along its entire length; you take off the backing and press it in place.  That’s great provided your surface is perfectly smooth, and perfectly clean.  I find that strip does not work well, but there are lots of little clips (made for purposes like holding wire to a wall) that can be used to hold it up.

CUTTING THE STRIP:  LED strips cut easily with sharp scissors or wirecutters.  BUT you must be careful to cut the trip at the right place!  You will see the little square LEDs, and between them will be pairs of small copper foil surfaces.  Cut the strip right across that copper foil, so you leave a bit on each of your cut ends.  If you do this, you’ll be able later to solder thin wires to them and use the part you cut off for something else.

ADDED SEPT 2020:  I had to replace a strip this summer, and the new ones came without a remotecontrol.  These operate thru Wifi or Bluetooth from your phone, tablet or home assistant (e.g., Alexa).  The app, called Tuyasmart, lets me adjust the colors and brightness and also set timed events (turn on every evening at 7PM, off at 10:15PM, etc.).  A very nice addition, although if it loses its wifi connection I have to go up a ladder to reset it.


Plugs and counters

SUBCATEGORY: new construction/remodeling

This is just an easy idea that we’ve now done in two houses (in two countries).

It is simply this:  when designing your kitchen or bathroom, have an AC outlet (or two) installed under the counter, in a place where you will be able to reach it.  Then have a 1-inch (2 or 3 cm) hole drilled above it in your countertop.

Why?  So that the cords of your always-connected counter appliances–toothbrush/WaterPik in the bathroom; coffeemaker/grinder/toaster–stay totally out of your way and out of sight, all the time.  (You might even have a shelf under the bathroom counter for the toothbrush, REALLY keeping that ugly thing out of sight.)