Get your belt tension right with this inexpensive tool

Get your belt tension right with this inexpensive tool

I love maintaining my 2007 Toyota Yaris. It isn’t a perfect car, but it is incredibly reliable and easy to work on.

One issue I’ve had is that the serpentine belt loves to squeal. It is such a common issue on this model that Toyota actually increased the recommended belt tension after the car came out. So to fix the squeal, you just have to tighten the belt more.

But how much more? Too loose and it will still squeal (and ruin the belt). Too tight and you can damage more expensive components in the car.

The solution is an inexpensive Gates 91132 belt tension tester. I paid about $11 on Amazon. The price fluctuates a bit so you may have to pay a few dollars more if you want it now.


This little gizmo is very easy to use. You simply align it in the center of the belt and push. When you hear it click, you stop pushing and check the value.

To check the belt tension on a 2007 Toyota Yaris, you have to crawl under the car and push up on the middle of the belt between the crank and the air conditioner. The proper tension is 102-103 Ft. Lbs.

It also helps to have a belt tensioner. I added one to my car a few years ago, and it has saved me so much time when changing the belt.

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Repairing an electric Frigidaire oven

Repairing an electric Frigidaire oven

The other day I was preheating the oven to make some tasty chicken nuggets. Suddenly the oven made a loud noise and lit up like there was a fireball inside. A moment later the breaker tripped. After the oven cooled down I took a look inside and found out that the heating element burned out. It made quite a mess and left some minor cosmetic damage on the bottom of the oven.



The heating element was burned all the way through. Luckily, this is an easy to replace part. I searched the internet for my oven model number to find the correct part number for the heating element, then ordered a new one off of Amazon. Installation was incredibly easy. I flipped the breaker at the outside panel, unscrewed the burned out element, popped it off, popped on the new one, screwed it on, and turned the breaker back on. Done! Super easy.

Unfortunately, there was damage to the control board that wasn’t noticeable until the new element was plugged in and turned on. There was an extremely annoying tone whenever the element was on. This is what it sounded like (the tone starts 4 seconds into the file):

I did some more searching online and discovered that this was likely a bad relay on the control board. So back to the outside panel, flip the breaker again, take off the back cover of the oven, find the model number for the control board, and order another online. This time I used PartSimple (they had the best price I could find from a reputable site). Keep in mind that appliance parts are often manufactured by multiple companies. What matters is that the control board part number matches and it looks like it has the same parts in the same places, not who made it.

Installing the control board was a bit more complicated than installing the new heating element. I again flipped the breaker at the outside panel, then I carefully unhooked everything attached to the control board. The connections were conveniently color coded so I was able to write down which color went to which part of the board. I like to be extra careful, so I took a few photos with everything still attached as a reference.


Next, I unscrewed and removed the old board. The new board didn’t come with the front piece with the button labels. I carefully pulled the front piece off of the old board and placed it on the new board. It was just glued on, and most of the glue was still tacky so I didn’t have to put new glue on it.


Finally, I screwed the new board in, attached the wires, closed up the oven, flipped the breaker, and voila! Chicken nuggets without an annoying high pitched tone!

Altogether this cost me $134.18, including tax and shipping. I’m not exactly thrilled at the cost, but definitely cheaper than hiring a repairman or buying a new oven.

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Replacing the “permanent” filter on a Dyson DC18

Replacing the “permanent” filter on a Dyson DC18

2013-07-17 17.53.16 My Dyson DC18 vacuum is 5 years old and has started to stink up the house whenever I run it. After some research I discovered the cause: a filthy permanent filter. Turns out it isn’t as permanent as Dyson claims, and many people replace it every few years.

The first step is to buy a replacement filter. I got a genuine Dyson filter on Amazon for $34. Considering refurbished DC18s are $200+, I think $34 is pretty reasonable.

Next, get a T10 screwdriver and remove the bottom cord wrap bracket (see picture). Once this is removed it is very straightforward to rotate the filter’s casing slightly clockwise, then it just comes right off. Carefully remove the old filter and replace it with the new clean filter. Replace the filter and casing, rotate slightly counterclockwise, and replace the bracket. If the filter casing is in the right place then the bracket will easily go back on, so don’t force it.

Before and after

The before and after of the permanent filter is pretty disgusting. I hate to think what was being tossed into the air every time I vacuumed.

I also took apart the cyclone assembly (pretty straightforward.. if you can’t figure it out on your own, you probably shouldn’t be messing with your vacuum..) and blasted it clean with my hose. It was nasty. Took a few days to air dry because of all its nooks and crannies, but now it is shiny and just like new.

And the result? No more stinky vacuum! I’m in love with my Dyson again!

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Using your web server as a proxy

Using your web server as a proxy

Tunnel!At Geekdom I’m stuck using a shared wifi connection. This exposes me to a slew of security issues. Eek! An easy way to resolve the security problems is to send all your traffic, encrypted, through another server. I already have a web server with plenty of processing and bandwidth capacity to handle my web browsing, so I decided to use it.

Getting things set up is extremely easy. I followed the instructions from a TechRepublic article to configure PuTTY (the “first” through “third” instructions) to make a secure tunnel to my server. Next, I used Proxy Switcher Lite (free) to make it easy to tell Windows (and any software you are running) to use the tunnel or connect directly to the internet without having to go into the Windows settings.

That’s it! I used my IP website, IP, to make sure my server’s IP was showing up instead of Geekdom’s IP, so I can be confident that my traffic is making its way through the secure tunnel.

If you want to give this a shot but don’t have a server, you could always use a VPS. I’ve got several at Linode that I am very satisfied with. Super fast, super cheap, super reliable. You could also try using a commercial VPN service, but personally I feel this setup provides superior security and is easier to use.

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I made cheese!

I made cheese!
2013-04-27 13.04.46

Farmhouse cheddar curds

Awhile back my wife and I saw a TV show that featured a lady that waxed cheese for long-term storage. Seeing as we love cheese, food storage, and DIY projects, we decided we also wanted to wax our own cheese. So I put some cheese stuff on my wishlist and my parents ended up getting it for me. Unfortunately, I discovered that you can’t really wax a block of cheap cheddar bought at Target. So I said fine, I’ll make my own dang cheese and wax it. I then realized I didn’t know how to make cheese, so I decided to take an all-day cheesemaking workshop offered by the self-proclaimed cheese queen, Ricki Carroll. It was a lot of fun!

The photo on the right is of me straining some curds for a farmhouse cheddar we made in class. We also made mozzarella, ricotta, crème fraîche… umm… some other cheeses… I don’t remember what all we made, but it is delicious. I of course got suckered into buying even more cheese-related merchandise, although I am proud of myself for refraining from purchasing the $280 cheese press.

Crème fraîche, straight from the bucket

Crème fraîche, straight from the bucket

On my way home from the workshop I ran by the grocery and bought some light cream so I could make crème fraîche for Becca and Anna to try. I was worried it wouldn’t turn out because they only sold ultra pasteurized light cream, but it turned out delicious! We’ve been eating it almost non-stop since it was ready.

The process was incredibly simple: heat the light cream on the stove, add the culture, stir it up, and stick it in an insulated bucket (or wrap in blankets or stick in stove with the light on, or whatever else you want to do to keep the temperature up over night). Let it sit undisturbed for 12 hours.


Draining the whey

We did this at about 9pm that night, so at about 9am the next morning I dumped the somewhat solid mass of cheese (yeah, it is technically a soured cream, but I’m going to call it a cheese anyway) into a strip of butter muslin (like cheesecloth but with a tighter weave) over a colander. I tied up the butter muslin and hung it from a hook so the whey could drip out over the next 4 hours.

I probably should’ve let it hang a little longer because it was a bit softer than I would have preferred, but I was impatient to try it out. It was great! We put it on some club crackers and munched through way more than we should have in a single sitting.

Anyways, next on the list is cheddar. We’ll have to buy or make a press in order to make a hard cheese, and it takes weeks and weeks to age before you can eat it, but I think it’ll be worth it.

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Starting a new company

Starting a new company

About two weeks ago I was happily drifting off to sleep when my cell phone rang. I hate getting voicemails more than I hate getting woken up in the middle of the night so I took the call. To my surprise it was a mission buddy, Jon, pitching me a business he wanted me to invest in. I’ve been trying to come up with a unique physical product to sell for years, so I was very excited to have one practically fall in my lap. I did some research, liked what I saw, and a few days later we signed an operating agreement for our new company. A few days after that (on my birthday!) we finalized a deal to purchase the rights to our new product from its creator.

So what, you may be asking, does this new company sell? SproutBoards. We aren’t a household name yet so you probably have no idea what that is, so let me explain. A SproutBoard is a sort of motherboard or breakout board for the popular Arduino microcontroller. This gives any SproutBoard user a slew of inputs that can be connected to sensors, outputs that can be used to control equipment, and the ability to use one of our acrylic chassis to mount their project on the wall or in a standard server rack. In addition to that we are developing software for the SproutBoard that will make it easy to tell your SproutBoard to take different actions based on the input of sensors.


So what can you actually make with a SproutBoard? Here are a few ideas:

  1. A server room monitor that can email, txt, or call you when the power goes out, it gets too hot, it detects flooding, or an unauthorized person tries to get to your equipment.
  2. An indoor greenhouse that turns the lights on and off as needed, maintains the appropriate humidity, and waters the plants when they get thirsty.
  3. A home security system that lets you use an RFID key fob to enter your home without a key, uses a low cost prepaid wireless service to alert you to problems even if the power is out, and lets you grant access to visitors even if you aren’t home.
  4. An aquarium control system that monitors temperature, pH, salt content, oxygen levels, and the water level, and lets you know the moment your fish are in danger.

Those are just a handful of the projects that we’ll be providing full tutorials and documentation for in the near future.

Well that is pretty much it for now. My partner and I have been working long nights trying to get the website moved over to our own server, getting documentation cleaned up, and doing all the tedious new business paperwork. We’ve been brainstorming new products and have a long (very long) list of products we plan on developing in the near future. It’ll be a few days before our inventory arrives so we’ve temporarily suspended sales but you’ll be able to place an order soon.

We are also gearing up for the Mini Maker Faire in Austin on May 5th. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend, but my partner will be there showing off a hydroponics system built using a SproutBoard. If you live anywhere near Austin, please stop by the Maker Faire and say hi to Jon for me!

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