My Little Corner of the Net

The Samsung Desktop Experience

I stumbled on this Gizmodo article last night and learned something about my phone that I didn’t know. Apparently every Samsung phone (at least in the Galaxy series) since the Galaxy S8 has a feature built into it called DeX, or the Desktop Experience, that allows you to use the device as a desktop by plugging it in to an HDMI display. Older devices required DeX-specific hardware for it to woek, but new devices, including my S20, can do it with any USB-C to HDMI adapter.

Since I have a couple of adapters that I use to connect my Macbook to my office monitors, I decided to try it out. After having to click through a couple of instruction screens the first time, my phone’s screen became a trackpad and a desktop that somewhat resembled a Linux desktop appeared on my monitor (yes, I know Android is built on Linux, so it technically is a Linux desktop). When I plugged a keyboard and mouse into the USB port on the adapter, my normal phone display came back up and I was able to continue to use it as normal, wth the monitor acting as second display.

On screen I’m able to access all of my apps, including a full screen version of Chrome, which I’m using to compose this post. It sort of reminds me of the Motorola Lapdock, except that, unlike with the Lapdock, you can still use the phone while it is teathered to the screen.

The interface is a little clunky–while keyboad shortcuts like Control-C an Control-V work, right clicking and long-clicking both don’t, so copying and pasting links and things is a bit of a pain. All in all, though, it works in a pinch. If I ever want to travel light (if I ever get to travel again), I could see myself bringing a small Bluetooth keyboard and an HDMI cable with me, so that I could plug in to a hotel’s TV when I needed something bigger than a phone screen, instead of having to lug a laptop around.

There’s also, appearently, a DeX for PC/Mac app that you can install on your desktop in order to access your DeX desktop on a running computer, sort of like accessing another machine over Remote Desktop. I haven’t tried this yet, but the article indicates that it allows for easy file sharing between the device and the computer. I may give it a try because, if it allows the phone’s audio to be played through the computer, it could be a handy solution for when I listen to podcasts while working. Currently, when I’m in the office (OK, so back in the olen ays when I worked in an office), I have to continuously switch my headphones between my computer and my phone when switching from Zoom meetings on the computer (or YouTube how-to videos) and my podcasts on my phone while I’m doing work. It’s not hard to do that, but it is a bit of a disruption, and DeX might be a solution to make the transition seemless.

Emmet Toolkit

Last night I was watching a YouTube video on some new web framework, trying to decide whether it was worth it to learn yet another new tool.  The framework was meh, but as the presenter was giving his demos, he was using someting called Emmet in Visual Studio Code to quickly create his HTML markup.  I was intrigued, but I don’t use VSCode that often as I’ve been a big fan of Sublime Text  since long before VSCode was a thing.  Fortunately, a quick check of Package Control showed that Emmet is available for Sublime, too!

So what is Emmet?  It’s an editor plugin that makes writing HTML faster by using a CSS-selector-like syntax to form the tags.

For example, typing this:


would result in the following HTML tag in your document after you press tab:

<h1 style="main-heading" id="site-title"></h1>

Emmet will also automatically position the cursor inside the tag once it creates it, making it easy to add your content.

Note that Sublime text will need to know that the file you’re editing contains HTML in order to activate Emmet.  You can do this by either saving the file with an .html extension, or selecting “HTML” from the document type menu in the bottom right corner of the window.

As you can see, the input structure consists of a tag name, followed by a dot to add a CSS class, and/or a hash to add an ID.  You can add multiple class names, too, which is useful if using CSS frameworks like Bootstrap or Tailwind:

Which results in:

<div class="container mx-2 my-3 p-3></div>

Emmett can also create children with the > operator.  To create an unordered list, enter:


In this example, the $ tells Emmett to add a counter to the attribute and the *5 tells it to repeat the tag five times:

    <li id="item1"></li>
    <li id="item2"></li>
    <li id="item3"></li>
    <li id="item4"></li>
    <li id="item5"></li>

If you don’t specify a tag name, Emmett defaults to div, so entering:


results in:

<div class="card"></div>

but it’s also smart enough to use a span if you create an element without a tag name inside an inline element:

<a href="">.highlight</a>

This gives you:

<a href=""><span class="highlight"></span></a>

Similarly,  if you create the element inside a list:


you’ll get a li:

<ul><li class="menuitem"><a href=""></a></li></ul>

Perhaps my favorite Emmet shortcut, though, is !. It creates the full HTML5 boilerplate for a new page. No longer do I have to go hunting Google for a template whenever I start a new project (since I can never remember the proper format for the “viewport” meta tag). Now I just have to type a bang, press tab, and I get this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
 <meta charset="UTF-8">
 <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Emmet also works with CSS files, though I haven’t really looked into those options yet.  Sublime, of course, already has pretty good CSS autocompletion, but Emmet gives you additional shortcuts, like m and p for setting margins and padding, respectively.  For example, expanding mauto10 in a CSS (or Less, or Sass) file will result in margin: auto 10px;. Personally, however, I find Emmet much more useful for quickly composing HTML.

Emmet is available for many editors, not just Sublime and VSCode. Among the others are Coda, Brackets, Atom, Eclipse, NetBeans, and even Dreamweaver. There’s also a JavaScript version so that Emmet completions can be added to textareas in web apps, as well as plugins for online IDEs and coding playground sites like CodePen and JSFiddle.

Installing Emmet in Sublime Text is easy if you’re using Package Control. Just press Ctrl-Shift-P or Cmd-Shift-P, depending on your platform, to open the Command Palette. Then start typing “Package” to find the “Package Control: Install Package” option. Then enter “Emmet.” There’s a few related packages available, but you’ll want the one that’s just called “Emmet.” If you don’t have Package Control installed, you can add it by following these instructions.

Happy coding!

Goodbye Cable TV–Don’t Let the Door Hit You In the Ass on the Way Out

I can still remember how excited I was when we first got cable TV as a kid.  My grandparents had had cable for a while, and I loved watching Nickelodeon when I’d visit them, so I was psyched that I’d now be able to watch it whenever I wanted.  Our first cable box was one of the slider boxes made by Hamlin.  It was about three inches thick, probably weighted 10 lbs, and permanently sat on the shelf under the TV.  When you wanted to change the channel you got up and used your finger to slide the little white switch to another of the 42 positions available (numbered from 2 to 43), though not all of them actually carried content.  (The lack of a channel 1 was a carryover from broadcast TV, where the frequencies allotted to channel 1 turned out to be unsuitable for television broadcasts.)

The channel guide for the cable service we had when I was in high school, found on an old TV I got rid of when we moved.

Early cable was interesting.  I remember sometimes “watching” HBO, even though we didn’t subscribe to it.  The picture was unintelligible because of the scrambling they used at the time, but the sound was usually OK enough to understand what was going on.  When you added HBO to your service, the cable guy had to come to your house and install a little filter, known as a descrambler, to the cable line before it connected to your cable box.  I distinctly remember HBO was channel 2 back then, Nickelodeon was 19, and because the FCC hadn’t yet regulated where local channels had to be placed, they were kind of interspersed all over the dial.  I also remember that subscriptions were per-TV, too (though I guess we’re kind of back to that now, given that most carriers require a digital decoder box nowadays), so most of my friend’s houses had cable in the living room and, if they had a second TV, like in the basement or in a their parents’ bedroom, that one usually had rabbit ears. 

Cable was a magical thing back then, not the monstrosity that it has become today.  A couple weeks ago, I was just as excited to get rid of my cable as I was to get it some 35 or so years ago.  While I don’t know how much we paid for cable when we first got it back in the 80’s, I do know that the $215/month that I was paying is well more than a 100% increase over the roughly $90 I was paying when I signed up for cable TV and Internet service in my first apartment after college in the early 2000s.

So what does $215/month actually get you?  Well, who knows, because Spectrum packages their plans in such a obtuse way that it is nearly impossible to understand.  When we moved our current house a few years ago, Time Warner had just rebranded to Spectrum, and they upgraded me to their latest package which included all the non-premium TV channels, 50Mbps Internet, and phone.  I told the sales rep that I didn’t need phone (I was already using a VOIP provider I liked, not that I really need a home phone anymore), but he told me it was cheaper to give me a bundle that included phone than one that didn’t.  OK, whatever.

According to my bill, I had “Starter TV” and “Standard TV.”  So what channels does that come with?  Well, I’m not sure, because if you go to the channel guide on Spectrum’s website, the options you see are “Spectrum Select,” “Spectrum Silver,” and “Spectrum Gold;” nowhere on the site does it talk about “Starter TV” or “Standard TV.”  Likewise, my bill said that I had an “Ultimate Internet Upgrade,” but nowhere on the bill or on Spectrum’s website could I find what that actually meant.

At some point, Spectrum increased the speed of their Internet plans, upping the lowest plan to 100Mbps.  At the time, they said that anyone on a Spectrum plan would get the increase automatically, but customers on legacy Time Warner pans would have to call and switch to a Spectrum plan to get it.  I noticed the speed of my connection jump to somewhere between 60 and 70Mbps around this time, so I assumed that my modem, now several years old, was just incapable of going any faster.  I made a point to see about getting a new one, but it wasn’t a huge priority, and I never did.
Since the TWC/Charter merger had already happened when we moved, I assumed that I was on a Spectrum plan: the guy who came to set up service in my new house was wearing a Spectrum shirt and driving a Spectrum truck, and the work order I signed when he was done said Spectrum at the top of it.

When the pandemic started, and I started working from home, I decided it was time to get the Internet speed I was actually paying for.  I had a second modem, that Spectrum had given me for the phone service that I wasn’t using, that was sitting in a box on the shelf, so I took it out and tried to set it up.  I couldn’t get it to work, so I called tech support for help. After sitting on hold for more than an hour, I found out I was on a Time Warner plan with Internet capped at 50Mbps.  I was transferred to sales to see about upgrading, spent another 45 minutes on hold, and was then told I had to call a different number to get upgraded.  I called that number, stayed on hold some more, started talking to a rep, but got disconnected.  Then I gave up.

A few weeks ago, we decided it was finally time to get rid of cable.  We made a list of all of the channels we regularly watch, and I started looking at what streaming services would be the best match.  We finally decided that Sling TV’s Blue plan, along with Hulu, got us access to most of the shows we like.  Philo was a close runner up, with a ton of channels for only $20/month, but its lack of news channels was a dealbreaker.  I also signed up for Frndly TV because someone also needed the Hallmark Channel (I could have added Hallmark to Sling for another $5, but Frndly also gives us Up, which she also likes, and the Weather Channel, as well as a couple other channels that might be interesting, for just a couple bucks more).  We already had Netflix and Amazon Prime and I installed an antenna in the attic to get local channels, piped through an HDHomeRun into my Plex server.

A couple days later, I happily cancelled my TV and phone services, returned all of my equipment, and finally got my Internet upgraded to 100Mbps.  I asked about getting a new modem, but the sales rep insisted that I just keep the phone modem, which she activated because, apparently, it never had been activated, which is why I couldn’t get it to work.  Oddly, she said she was doing a check to make sure the modem would be compatible with my router before she told me keep it.  “Well, it has an Ethernet port on it so, yeah it’ll work with my router,” I thought, “and how can you tell what kind of router I’m using, anyway?”

Back in the Time Warner days, when they decided to start charging a monthly fee for their modems, I went out and bought my own, which I was still using, 10 or 12 years later.  Spectrum no longer charges that fee, so rather than buying an upgrade, I figured I’d just let them give me a modem again.  My neighborhood will hopefully be getting Greenlight fibre soon, so why waste the money?  The phone modem turned out to be a piece of shit, though, that would stop working roughly every 18 hours and would need to be reset.  I also hated that it was four-times the size of my old modem and took up most of the space on the board in my cellar where my network equipment is mounted.  Out of frustration, I ended up buying a new modem, a Netgear CM500, for about $60.  It’s not a top-of-the-line device, but it’s one of The Wirecutter’s favorites, and it’s good enough for my needs.  The only downside for me is that it’s not wall mountable–I ended up sinking a couple of lag bolts into my networking board to rest it on, then used wire ties to hold it in place.  It works, and I haven’t had an outage since I got it up and running.

As far as cost savings go, Sling, Hulu, and Frndly run me about $40/month.  Internet-only service from Spectrum is about $70, so altogether I’m now dropping about $110, or just over half of what I was paying before.  All three services work fine on our FireTV Sticks and video quality is as good as it was with cable.  Sling does freeze up every once in a while, but it can usually be resolved with a quick press of the back button on the FireTV remote, and then selecting the channel again.

Now if only Greenlight would get here faster… 

I Finally Figured Out Why There’s an Ethernet Port on the Back of Some Cable Boxes

A pair of ActionTec ECB6200 MoCA 2.0 adapters

As I’m about to drop cable TV in an effort to start saving money on something I hardly use, I got curious about the Ethernet port on the back of my set top boxes.  When we moved about four years ago, the tech doing the install in the new house looked at my existing box and said “wow, that’s old” and then set me up with two brand new, much smaller, modern looking Arris boxes.  I noticed at the time that they had an Ethernet port on the back, and wondered about it, but I didn’t look into it.  I though maybe the box was some kind of all-in-one unit that could double as a cable modem.

Recently, one of my mother-in-law’s cable boxes started to malfunction, so I took it home with me so that I could get it swapped out.  Her box was a little older, but while it was sitting on the half wall between my kitchen and family room, I noticed that it, too, had an Ethernet port.  Intrigued, I started doing some research.

It turns out that there is a technology called MoCA, short for Multimedia Over Coax Alliance. MoCA allows sending Ethernet signals over the coax cable in your home, similar to the way powerline Ethernet (i.e. Homeplug) works over electrical lines.  It looks like this is the reason for the Ethernet port on the box, at least for the Arris boxes, anyway, though it isn’t clearly documented in the product manual beyond a one-liner that says it supports MoCA.

To make it work, you’d need to add a MoCA adapter near your network switch.  They are readily available on Amazon, with prices ranging anywhere from about $20 for a pair all the way up to over $200 a piece.  To make it work, you plug the Ethernet end of the device into a port on your router and connect the coax end to your home’s cable TV line.  Then you connect another Ethernet cable between the cable box and the device you want to connect to the network, like a smart TV or a streaming adapter, or even a computer.  From what I’ve read, you can expect maximum speeds of around 200Mbps—not super fast, but certainly decent enough to make streaming work in a WiFi dead zone.

Though I haven’t actually used it, MoCA is supposed to work fine alongside your regular cable service.  I’m now wondering if I might be able to squeeze even a bit more speed out of it if I disconnect the incoming line (which will soon only carry Internet service, with my modem already located where the service enters the house), and run it over the otherwise dead coax lines.

I’ve been considering running CAT-6 to my TVs to get better connections as I switch to streaming everything, but MoCA could make for a much easier installation, and probably with no noticeable difference in video quality.

Have you tried MoCA?  I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

Waxing Nostalgic

I just watched a webinar on how to hold a conference online. Given the current state of affairs, with COVID-19 keeping us locked up in our homes, the planning committee for the Rochester Security Summit is rightly concerned that we might not be able to hold our traditional conference this October and we’re exploring virtual options.

During the presentation, the host noted that in the online conference that she had run, they had placed white rabbits around the virtual exhibit hall. If you clicked on these Easter eggs (or perhaps Easter bunnies) they linked you out to a website,, where you can use your mouse to slap some random guy in the face with an eel.

This got me thinking of another site, one that I first learned about from the crudely drawn posters hung along RIT’s Quarter Mile during my freshman year, Poke Alex in the Eye. (Incidentally, I once interviewed Alex, the creator and star—or perhaps victim is a better term—of the site, for a position we had available at one time, and I was surprised to learn that the site was still up so many years later. Sadly, it no longer seems to be.)

That, in turn, led me to think of two other online games I remember playing back in the mid-90’s. I believe they were both Shockwave games (yeah, that thing like Flash before Flash), and as such are probably long lost to the history of the Internet. I’m pretty sure that I linked to both of them on an early version of my personal “home page” while I was in school, but the earliest version of my site that the Wayback Machine has captured does not have them.

The first site was a whack-a-mole style game that had celebrities popping up for you to whack with your mouse. IIRC, they were all celebrities that had some form of black mark on them at the time for something they did. I also remember that the Queen of England would occasionally pop out of one of the holes and I think you’d lose points if you whacked her.

The other was a celebrity boxing game where you’d pick a celebrity and then go at them in the ring, first-person-shooter style. Again, I think the celebrities were all people we loved to hate at the time. This one may have been Celebrity Slugfest, which I’ve found a few references to on the web, but unsurprisingly the site itself appears to be long gone.

So, do you remember these old Internet classics? Do you have any other old favorites that you’d like to reminisce about? Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear a your Internet nostalgia.