Lasers. Know What You Are Getting In To.

I have written about this before but it seems there is an explosion of laser owners who spend big money on a gigantic CO2 laser machine and then are never able to produce anything with it.  The frustration level is generally pretty high and then after declaring the machine to be garbage they then want 95% of retail price to sell it.

It is both fun, and sad to watch.  After playing with lasers for a couple of years, here are my updated thoughts on the dilemma that plagues many new users.

There are some incredible artists out there with exceptional abilities to produce imaginative products.  Products that they assume will make them rich.  So they invest thousands in a CO2 laser.  Here are some of the things they quickly find out:

  • The lasers are made in China, with all the quality tech support you have come to expect from China.
  • A laser is a SYSTEM which consists of Power Supplies, Electronic Controllers, safety switches, fans, motors, water cooling systems, a HIGH POWERED laser with a precision alignment series of mirrors in which the beam must be aligned horizontally AND vertically.  Throw in a laser dot pointer, and a water chiller, and an air assist system, and you have a device that requires several vocational skills to maintain.  Oh, and they can be networked as well.  You might need some minor computing skills.
  • Machines like this WILL BREAK.  It is not “if”.  It is “when”.  CO2 laser tubes have a finite life span and will have to be replaced and re-aligned.  There is no getting around that.
  • If the machine is vital to your production and any down time will affect your BUSINESS AND CUSTOMERS you absolutely, positively MUST MAINTAIN SPARE PARTS and possess the ability, or know someone with the ability to repair the machine.  Or own a back up machine.

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Upgrading Acer A514-54-501Z

Got this Acer Aspire 5 (A514-54-501Z) laptop at Walmart for $399 after doing a ton of research on budget laptops.  Possibly the best part about this laptop is that it is upgradeable.  The laptop comes with a Kingston 256GB NVME M.2 Solid State Drive.  Through some projects and upgrades I just happened to have a 1TB Samsung EVO 970 Plus drive laying around.  Might as well put it to good use.

If you are trying to keep the total upgrade cost lower than the cost of a more capable laptop then the sweet spot for a drive upgrade is probably a 500GB NVME which generally runs about $50.   Add 16GB of RAM for about $60 and your total cost is about $510.  Add 8GB of RAM instead and you can lop $30 off of that cost.  There is not really another budget laptop with these specs at these costs.

Obviously the drive needs to be cloned, and cloning it in place is most desirable.  The best way to clone the target drive is with a USB C enclosure. I used this one that I got on Amazon.

Plugable NVME M.2 Enclosure

The Acer Aspire laptop has a USB C port so connecting it was a breeze.  You simply slide the target drive in the enclosure, add some thermal pads (included) to the drive, and plug it in the computer.  It will be immediately recognized as your D: drive.


Another advantage of having the Plugable NVME enclosure is that now you will have a spare 256GB drive just laying around.  Slap it in the enclosure and you just got yourself a 256GB external hard drive.  I recommend using AOMEI Backupper to create an image file of the original drive just in case.  Back in the day you used to get a Windows CD with your computer purchase. Now if a drive craps out you have nothing.  To retrieve your original 25 digit Windows Product Key type the following at a CMD prompt:

wmic path softwarelicensingservice get OA3xOriginalProductKey

The software I used is AOEMI BackUpper Professional.  While you can accomplish this with the free version of the software, the Pro version will convert your MBR drive to GPT and also automatically resize the unused portion of the partition.   Also there will be no issues with it being a bootable drive.  I didn’t time the clone process but it only took 2 or 3 minutes.

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Acer Aspire 5 A514-54-501Z Walmart Price Reduction

I blogged about this laptop previously but since then things have gotten better.  When I first bought it, it was $499 however Walmart lowered the price to $449 but wouldn’t give me a price adjustment so I returned it and bought a new one.

Since that time the price has been reduced further to $399.  Let me tell you why that is such a great deal.  Not many laptops are upgradeable these days but this laptop has an accessible NVME M.2 drive (that you would need to clone, or do a fresh install, if you upgrade the drive).  It comes with a 256 GB drive however I have a 1TB drive laying around here that I may slap in mine.  I just need to figure out how to clone it first.  I might have to buy an NVME enclosure as the laptop has no PCIe slot to plug an adapter into.

In addition to that there is an unpopulated SATA drive bay where you can add an additional hard drive.  There are 8GB of RAM, 4 of which is built into the main board and a 4GB (PC4-3200) stick in the DDR4 slot.  You could change that out to a 16GB stick for a total of 20GB.  Lastly you could change the wifi chip if you wanted to.

A514-54-501Z Upgrades (click pics to enlarge)

Let’s summarize:

  • Upgradeable NVME Drive
  • Can add a second SATA drive
  • RAM upgradeable
  • WiFi chip can be changed out.

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CNC Improvements

I bought a small CNC in maybe December of 2021, and in a month or so later I bought a proper CNC machine.  Basically, I knew nothing about woodworking or CNC operations.  But I taught myself.  One small lesson at a time.  Since I’m retired and in no hurry I decided to tackle skills one at a time.

So here I am just a few months later and while there is still lots to learn………….I’m cranking out beautiful pieces of woodworking.  A couple of which have impressed my own self.

Probably the first Maker Machine I ever bought was a vinyl sign machine.  I learned quickly that it isn’t only the ability to successfully make something it also includes the ability to NOT WASTE MATERIAL.  Maximizing your stock is vital in becoming a skilled artisan.  Here’s the most recent things that I made, and I have to say, to me, it is beautiful

CNC Sushi Tray

It actually is a simple make. There are two bits used and three operations.

First a 1/4″ Upcut bit is used to rough clear the material.

Then it is followed up by a tiny 1/16″ bit that carves the details.

Then finally you put the 1/4″ bit back in to do a profile cut around the outside of the tray.   Do some sanding and then oiling and you are left with basically a piece of artwork.
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Myofascial Release

This may seem unusual for what most might consider an Electronics or Computer Tech Blog but this is Human Body Tech.  Let me preach on it…………..

Sometime around the year 2000 or so I was ridiculously fat and getting fatter.  I finally decided that it was time to knuckle down and do what needed to be done.  I was living in Japan and on a business trip to Pax River, Maryland and hopped on a treadmill for the first time.  I had to run in boxer shorts and dress socks but I ran a mile on the treadmill.

I’ll spare you the progression story but suffice to say I was a huge “runner” but a runner nonetheless.  And along with that hugeness came aches and pains.  I was highly motivated to run and read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on.  There is no shortage of motivational running literature out there.  And then the inevitable happened.  I got a mild injury, probably to my IT Band.  The IT Band is a thick bunch of fibers that runs along the outside of your thighs and knee.  While researching my ouch-ee I read a book called The Pain Free Runner, about Myofascial Release for the first time.

I’m no Doctor or Nurse or Physical Therapist or anything of the sort.  I was nothing but a fat, hurt runner.   But I’ll my best to explain this in layman’s terms.  When some muscle hurts in your body the actual site of the injury or “Trigger Point” is somewhere else.  The tension from the knotted muscles or tissue pull and stretch the affected muscle where you feel the pain.  Release the knotted muscle and the pain subsides.

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Leatherman Squirt PS4 First Look

Leatherman Squirt PS4

I love multi-tools but sometimes they need to be small.  Sometimes you’re in short pants, dress pants, or just holding a keychain, but you still might have to save the day.  There are only a few multi-tool choices and most of them are Swiss Army knives.  Some Swiss Army knives have pliers on them but they are tiny pliers that pull out of the body of the knife.   It’s tough to get a man grip on something with those things.

Also I need to say I swear no allegiance to any particular manufacturer.  EDC can be very situational.  I carry a Victorinox Classic SD on my keychain which is great for tiny jobs but lacks critical tools like a beer opener!

I really love my Leatherman Surge but it is freakishly huge and this blog is about portability.  It is about those times that you can’t carry the freakishly huge multi-tool.  And that really limits the playing field.  No real man would be caught dead without EDC tools though.

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Home Automation – The Need For Local Control

Home automation is a thing.  People love to say “Alexa, Turn on the Light” and giggle when it does.

But there is an inherent problem with this.  Most home automation products you buy come with a proprietary app that you control from your phone or computer.  That means your device is DEPENDENT ON THE “CLOUD”!

What do you do when the Cloud goes “Poof”?

About a week ago a brand of Home Automation products sold by Home Depot called “Insteon” went Poof.  Gone.  Dead.  If you own Insteon devices and an Insteon hub your home automation devices simply no longer work.

Oddly enough at Lowe’s in March 2019 the same thing happened.  Their offerings called “IRIS” also went poof.  At least they gave some warning.  Insteon just stopped working.  Their website has a mea culpa statement up.  “We’re real sorry your stuff stopped working”. Real helpful. Not.

All is not 100% lost though.  If you own Insteon stuff it can be incorporated into the Home Automation software called Home Assistant.  Home Assistant is a tad bit geeky though.  I dare say that most casual Home Automation users probably can’t pull it off.
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Leatherman Signal Review

Leatherman Signal

I love Swiss Army knives but I love me a good multi-tool as well.  I have several, from several manufacturers, and since I sometimes go camping I decided to pick up a Leatherman Signal in Cobalt Blue.  In most reviews you’ll see the reviewer discuss in almost identical detail the things that are linked in the manufacturers product page.

Not me.

I’ll just tell you what I like, or don’t like about it.  First of all I have a Leatherman Surge and a Wave Plus.  I’ve had this Signal for a long time and just never got around to reviewing it.

The Surge is awesome, especially with the accessory tools such as the Rachet Driver and by and large the Wave Plus is my favorite of the Leatherman offerings.  I don’t even need to elaborate.  Just get one and you’ll likely agree.

The Signal is a different beast entirely. And I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.   And in fact I’ll cut right to the chase.  The redeeming value this knife possesses for hiking and camping is the Ferrocerium Rod (fire starter) and the hammer for pounding in some tent stakes or likewise.  And even then, the hammer has a small face on it and not a great grip for hammering.

Again, cutting straight to the chase here…………..I’d rather be toting a Wave Plus and some other separate ferro rod for starting fires.
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Acer Aspire 5 KMODE Exception Not Handled

This blog is mostly for me to remember what I did to fix the Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) problem with my new laptop.

First of all I HATE Windows with every fiber of my being.   However, I have a CNC machine and the best design software in the world comes from Vectric which is Windows only.  So I bought a cheap laptop.  An Acer Aspire 5 A514-54-501Z from Walmart.  Not sure when it happened, but probably after an update or installation of some program but I started getting the dreaded BSOD with only a KMODE Exception Not Handled.  The computer would boot loop with the BSOD every time but if I did a hard shutdown and restart it would boot however, then it would start without Wifi Drivers.  The next reboot would clear it up.

That’s too much frustration.  Googling the KMODE error basically just said “It”s probably a driver issue” with no more details.  Since it seemed the Wifi driver wasn’t getting loaded after a BSOD I guessed it was that one.   I did a Search For New Driver in Device Manager and it said I had the latest.   Yeah.  Not true.  Seems there was a new Wifi Driver put up about 2 weeks ago.  Probably for the BSOD issue.  My device showed as this in the Device Manager

Wireless LAN Driver (MT7921)

Acer WiFi Driver

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Building a Fast Pi File Server

I just did a blog on booting a Pi 4 Compute Module from an NVME drive.  I’ll provide a Build Of Materials (BOM) for duplicating this project.  Here are the primary components:

Compute Module 4 Build of Materials

ComponentCost Description
CM4008000$75CM4 Lite 8GB No Wifi, No Bluetooth
NVME PCIe Adapter$11NVME Adapter
Samsung EVO 970 Plus 2TB$203NVME Drive
CM4 IO Carrier Board$35Carrier Board for CM4
SD Card$9SD Card (optional). Not required if your CM4 has eMMC.
Power Brick$9Power Brick. Just picked the first one I saw on Amazon. Any 12v , 2 amp or more will do. Get a 5.5mm connector.

So for just over $300 you can have an amazing file server.  Also if you back off the 2TB Samsung EVO970 to a 1TB drive you can save $100 roughly.  You can buy a cheaper Compute Module as well IF YOU CAN FIND ONE. A 2GB one is fine for serving files. For around $200, or a bit less you can have a solid, and adequately fast file server.
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