Actual, true, honest-to-goodness FREE Carfax report for any VIN


Okay, you're trying to buy a vehicle and you want to know the vehicle history, right?  Everyone online says "use Carfax", which is good advice since they have the largest database of vehicle records and their site is clean and easy to use.  Many good, honest dealerships have a Carfax account and publish their car info for free so check that option first.  But, let's say you're looking at a car on Craigslist and it only has a VIN number and no mileage or service history.  If you go to and paste the VIN from the Craigslist ad, the site says something like "Yay, we found the vehicle in our database and it contains lots of awesome information and detailed goodies, but... you need to pay us $40 first."


So you're wondering to yourself, "Can I get at least some of that info for free (legally)".  Well, you can.  And it's pretty simple.  Instead of going to their main homepage, browse to  You'll see a big "Free! Sign Up" area on the homepage.  Use a temporary email and create a random one-time password to create your account.  Once logged in, it will ask you to set up your "garage".  Instead of putting the VIN numbers of the cars in your actual garage at home, put in the VIN of the vehicle you're interested in buying.  It will ask you a few questions about the vehicle (like year, make, and model which you get from the Craigslist ad) ...and Presto! a basic report of the vehicle with mileage, service records, and maintenance history.  You still don't get accident reports or all the data in the $40 report but it may help some of you out there...

P.S. If you still need a complete report, you might try one of the services recommended by the National Vehicle Services government agency.

Rotate videos


I needed to rotate some Razr M videos.  Here's the command:

avconv -i INPUT.mp4 -map 0 -c:v libx264 -c:a copy -vf "transpose=1" -s svga OUTPUT.mp4

The transpose options are and the scale options are

To flip an upside-down video, use -vf "vflip, hflip"

To clip, use -ss <start-time> -t <duration>  in hh:mm:ss format (or just an integer for seconds) – make sure to list this before the -i argument

Connect Motorola Razr M (JellyBean Android) to PC for file transfer


When I connected my new Motorola Razr M smartphone to my Lubuntu PC for the first time, it detected the device as a CD-ROM:

When I clicked OK to open, it simply contained a Windows installer program:

After some detective work, I found the solution to be simple:

  1. Slide your finger from the top of smartphone screen downward to reveal status messages.
  2. In the list you will find "Connected as a media device".  Tap on that option and you will notice it is connected by default as "Media device (MTP)"
  3. Instead, you need to tap on the (non-intuitive) "Camera (PTP)" option
Lubuntu will now detect the smartphone as a storage device:

Click OK (ignoring any "initializing camera" errors).  You will then have your SD card and smartphone internal storage listed as "XT907" in File Manager:

My biggest tech pet peeve


The script quality of the movie Armageddon aside, this pet peeve is as ubiquitous in tech shows as "very unique" is to the American lexicon:

My favorite photgrapher


The University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography recently updated their website and I was very pleased to discover they are highlighting my favorite photographer, Tseng Kwong Chi: