Networking

I have been meaning to post something about my home network for a while but I was finally urged to do it because I got a new network switch that improves the whole network dramatically and because friend of the show KT expressed interest. SO, here it is, my home network:

The internet comes into the house through a cable modem supplied by the fine folks at Comcast. The modem has a built in wifi router but I don't use this for wifi because there's a tiny little antenna in the inside of the plastic case and no good way to boost that signal. And it sits in my office in one corner of the house so that signal would be pretty awful everywhere but in the office. Since the modem web dashboard won't let me just turn the wifi off I password protected it and set it to not broadcast it's name so it doesn't even show up on wifi network lists.

The cable modem does have a decent enough router in it so I let it assign all the local IP addresses and do DNS for all of the connected devices. Comcast does do that weird re-direct to their search page for mistyped url addresses but since every modern web browser uses the address bar as the search bar mistypes just get routed to Google.com. And I've found that their DNS is fast enough that I don't notice much difference from when I put custom DNS settings in the old ethernet router - more on that below. It's just microseconds, anyway.

A quick note about the crappy schematic above... From the cable modem through to all devices a solid line denotes ethernet (Cat5 or better) cable and dotted lines are wifi connections.

The cable modem connects to my home network through a Netgear 8-port Gigabit switch. I had been using a TP-LINK TL-R860 ethernet router here, but I found that either the fact that it was only a 10/100 speed router or that signals were going through two routers, my speeds to the internet – and those across the home network – were limited. My favorite podcast co-host can tell you of my frustrations with latency in connecting to the internet. By the time I changed to the switch I was restarting the TP-LINK router more than once a day.

Changing to the switch to connect everything also increased speeds between devices on the network - Apple TV to Mac Mini, Mac to network storage - by at least three times. It is nice that all but the biggest movies stored in iTunes on my Mac start almost instantly on the Apple TV. And my backups to my network storage are super fast now.

In my office I have three devices connected directly to the switch. First, and most boring, is my work PC. It's a PC. Nothing else to say about that. Then I have my Mac mini. This machine is really the hub for everything. I have all of our music, movies, and photos on it. It is also where I control all of the backups of everything (much more about backups in an upcoming post) and where I record and edit the podcast. I actually have all of the podcast files on the next device, the network attached storage, for when I eventually get a MacBook Air, so that I can easily access and edit those files without having to be stuck here in the office.

On to the NAS. I have used so many different devices for storage, from external USB drives, to firewire RAID arrays, to a drive at my parent's house synced over CrashPlan and they all kind of sucked. Finally I decited to go ahead and get something that would just work and stay working. I bought a Lacie 5big Network 2. It's a network attached RAID device that holds five hard drives and manages the RAID for me. Currently I have five one terabyte drives in it and with the RAID management that gives me about 3.6 TB of usable space. That's divided up amongst a couple of backups and a storage folder where I have some files I wanted temporarily off the Mac mini (for space reasons) and all of the podcast files as mentioned above. I do have a USB drive attached to the Mac mini for backing up the NAS (I am very data paranoid) but those details will wait for an upcoming backups post.

For the rest of my network I have to thank the contractors that built my house. I'm not really sure why but they wired the house with Cat5 instead of regular phone cable. And there is an accessible hub box in the garage so I can rewire it to control where the signals go. This let me take a Cat5 cable from the switch to the jack in the wall of my office and route that signal through the walls and garage to the room where we have our entertainment center. From the jack in that wall I have a Cat5 going to an ASUS wifi router.

The awesome thing about this router, the RT-N66U, which I actually didn't find out about until after I had it for a while, it how customizable it is. First, you can turn off the router part of it completely by switching it to Access Point mode. This makes all devices connected to it, whether ethernet or wifi, find a router upstream for an IP address and DNS info and such. Also, the antennas on this ASUS router are replaceable. So I've removed one and attached a higher power antenna from Super Power Supply. It's huge and my wife hates it but it gives a great wifi signal throughout most of the house and her iPhone and work computer never have trouble connecting.

Connected via wifi are our iPhones, my new-ish iPad, Beatrix's old iPad, Erin's terrible work PC notebook, and our printer/scanner. We print a surprising amount of stuff for 2014 and printing wirelessly is the real dream of the 90s. For photos and documents having a scanner is the best thing ever.

The ethernet ports on the ASUS router (which is in my TV stand behind my receiver because, curiously, I can't turn off the bright, blue blinking lights) have my Apple TV, PS3, my "smart" TV (because I had a port for it and an extra cable, so why not?) and our Vonage VOIP phone modem plugged into it. We have one of those phones with a base station and a bunch of wireless handsets so no phone cable running through the house. We could probably get rid of that "landline" but enough companies and people have that number — whom we don't necessarily want to give our cell numbers to — that it's kind of worth keeping it. Vonage lets me set it so it never actually rings and all calls go straight to voicemail, so that's nice.


Links:

Netgear GS208 switch

ASUS RT-N66U wifi router

Super Power Supply® 1 x 15dBi 2.4GHz 5GHz Dual Band WiFi RP-SMA Antenna

LaCie 5big Network 2

Seagate Expansion Desktop Hard Drive

I Bought A New Camera

A few weeks back I sold just about all of the camera gear I had – two bodies, a Sony and a Canon; four lenses; random batteries and such – to B & H Photo. With the money they gave me I bought myself a new camera.

I had a wish list for a new camera that until very recently was not even close to possible within my budget (sub-$1,000). First, I really wanted something pocketable, or nearly so. Even if it would only fit in a small bag or large cargo shorts pocket that was fine. It just needed to be way, way more portable than the DSLR body/lens monstrosities I was used to lugging around. That's because I usually just didn't bother lugging them around. The choice ended up being between a relatively-light-but-inconvenient-to-shoot-with prime lens or a heavy and obnoxious zoom lens. I didn't even buy a zoom for the Canon. I knew I wouldn't bother carrying it. Recently I have just taken half-decent iPhone photos and not bothered with the "real" camera. So, portability.

Second, I decided that I wanted a compact camera – meaning one without detachable/replaceable lenses. I've owned three DLSRs and they, without fail, get dust spots on the sensor. And I'm just not going to take the time or spend the money to get them cleaned. And I'm sure as hell not going to try to clean an expensive sensor myself. It didn't have to be some professional sealed camera body. I'm not going to shoot in the desert or anything. But an integrated lens would save me a lot of time (and pissed-off-ness) fixing dust-spots in Lightroom later on.

Also in the name of my own convenience, I wanted a zoom lens. I wanted some versatility and flexibility. As hard as I fell in love with the Fuji X100 line of cameras I just don't think a single focal length is going to cut it when I'm shooting landscape, nature, soccer games, Christmas parties, etc., etc. Although the range of the zoom was not my primary concern I did want something that went relatively wide on the short end, preferably 20-30mm or wider. And, of course, I wanted as good a lens as I could get and as fast as I could get. I love getting a couple extra stops out of natural light. I almost never use a flash.

Finally, and this is the main part that wasn't really available until the last few years, I really wanted a camera with aperture control on the lens and shutter speed/exposure compensation on the top plate. There is a very good reason so many film cameras use this sort of configuration... It is an excellent balance of complete control with ease of use. And the modern variation – started with the aforementioned X100 series, I believe – is to completely do away with a mode (PASM) dial and just put auto settings on the, now separate, aperture and shutter speed controls. Put the aperture to A, you're in shutter priority. Shutter to A is aperture priority. Both to A? Program mode.

It feels like cameras are finally catching up to the available computing power and making photography more about taking the picture than knowing every menu setting on the tool.

So, B&H gift card (digitally) in hand I pulled the trigger on the camera I felt hit all of my checklist items, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100. Here's a crappy iPhone photo of my new tool on my desk...

New! Yay!

New! Yay!

For completeness I'll note that I have the lens cap that came in the box – it works better than most – and a wrist strap I bought on Etsy (here) for $10 (cheap!). The only semi-expensive accessories I got are the B+W UV filter on the camera in the pic above and a B+W circular polarizer.

Another interesting note... This Lumix with a really nice Leica lens is $900 at B&H. The same Leica branded camera with the same lens and guts is $1,200. That's $300 for a red badge that won't make your photos $0.01 better.

I have taken some test photos and fooled around with the settings for a couple of weeks and I'm starting to get really comfortable with the camera and what it can do. And, I have to say, I am very happy with the results I've gotten just messing around and taking snaps around the house.

Some test photos:

I can't give a final verdict on the LX100, but I am very impressed so far. It has been able to do everything my old DSLRs could do. Many more pics to come.


Interesting Note: This camera is new enough that neither Lightroom, Adobe Raw Converter, nor OS X itself will recognize the Raw photo files (.RW2). JPG files are fine, obviously.

I had to do some fiddling with the EXIF data - I used EXIF Editor from the Mac App Store - to get them to import into Lightroom. Basically, you have to make LR think the files came from a camera it does recognize without screwing up the files themselves. Some quick Googling led me to changing the camera model in the EXIF to the Lumix DMC-GX7. It uses the same file format so it doesn't confuse LR. And EXIF Editor lets you do batch file changes – and save those changes as a preset! – so it took all of thirty seconds to make the change. As soon as it was done OS X Finder started showing previews and the files imported into Lighroom easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. I just added a comment in the EXIF that they were actually taken with the LX100 in case anyone pulls the data up on Flickr and gets confused.


Update, November 17, 2014:

Apple released an update to Digital Camera RAW Compatability on November 14 that included support for the new LX100 .RW2 files:

No official word on when Adobe will update Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw to support the LX100 and the other cameras in the update above, but one hopes it will be soon. No doubt they are busy preparing Lightroom 6 (due out next year) also.

You Should Vote Tomorrow, Virginia

I don't care who you vote for. It often seems pointless anyway. Indeed, I had all but decided that I wasn't going to even bother voting in tomorrow's midterm elections. But, out of a sense of responsibility to do my due diligence I checked the Virginia elections website to see what and who I would be voting for.

As it turns out there is a compelling reason for Virginians to vote tomorrow. There is a proposed amendment to the state constitution which provides for an expansion of a tax exemption for the surviving spouses of military personnel killed in action.

As the law stands now the state constitution makes tax exempt

the real property, including the joint real property of husband and wife, of any veteran with a one hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability, as determined by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

So, veterans who are permanently and totally disabled are exempt from real estate taxes. This exemption does not currently apply to the surviving spouses of soldiers killed in action. The proposed constitutional amendment would fix that.

The proposed amendment would authorize the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of any surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in action, as determined by the U.S. Department of Defense. The exemption from taxation would cease if the surviving spouse remarries. The exemption would apply regardless of whether the spouse was killed in action prior to the effective date of this amendment but would apply only to those real property taxes to be paid on or after the effective date of legislation passed by the General Assembly. The exemption from taxation would apply to the surviving spouse’s principal place of residence, even if he or she moves to a new principal place of residence. The exemption would not require the surviving spouse to have been residing in the Commonwealth at the time his or her spouse was killed in action.

Basically, if a soldier is killed in combat his or her spouse will be exempt from real estate taxes due to the Commonwealth regardless of whether they lived in Virginia when the soldier was killed or if the surviving spouse changes primary residence. The exemption only expires if the surviving spouse remarries.

This is a small, but beneficial step to help those families who have sacrificed for our freedom and security. If you are a Virginia resident please take the time tomorrow to go vote Yes on the proposed constitutional amendment.


Virginia Department of Elections Proposed Amendment


Follow Up:

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The constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly. Well done, Virginia.

Science Museum

We—Beatrix and I—went to the Science Museum of Virginia this afternoon while Erin was doing schoolwork. I didn't take very many pictures because we were only there for a little while but we had a good time and we got to see an IMAX movie.

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The Foucault Pendulum is proof of the Earth's rotation, if you're skeptical of that phenomenon. All of the kids like watching the pendulum knock over the pegs. It is a nice centerpiece for the large, open lobby.

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Beatrix got in the Friendship 7 again. She has been in there before but this time she wasn't at all scared of it and wanted to get in and out by herself.

Finally, we saw the IMAX movie, Pandas: The Journey Home. It was a look at a group of Chinese scientists working to breed pandas in captivity and prepare them for release back into the wild. As IMAX movies are usually only 45 minutes long they are ideal for the attention span of a five year old.

I enjoy taking her somewhere that she might actually learn something and it makes me super proud that this time it was completely her idea to go.

Space is Hard

This week we got our first reminders since the 2003 Columbia disaster just how hard leaving Earth’s atmosphere is.

Tuesday saw the explosion of an unmanned resupply mission to the International Space Station. My daughter and I were on our back porch hoping to catch a glimpse of the Antares rocket as it lifted off from the Wallops Flight Facility here in Virginia. It didn’t make it past the tower. The rocket exlpoded taking with it some 5,000 pounds of experiments and supplies. Thankfully no one was hurt and it appears there is no impact to the island where the launch facility is located.

This morning a failure during a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo resulted in the loss of the vehicle. One pilot was able to parachute out and is in the hospital with serious injuries. Unfortunately the other pilot was killed.

We don’t yet have explanations for either of these failures. The NTSB, FAA, NASA, Orbital Sciences, and VirginGalactic are all working diligently to find the causes of these incidents. And the fact is that the findings from those investigations will make space flight that much safer.

But, there is no escaping the fact that the business of going beyond Earth is a dangerous one. We tend to feel that it’s safe and easy because we have so many launches and test flights that go without incident. We should not forget, however, that many astronauts and test pilots willingly gave their lives to bring air and space travel to the current state of relative safety.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement today, “Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.” The best way to honor those men and women who gave their lives to the cause of human exploration is to learn more, make it better and safer, and to keep pushing those boundaries.


Relevant Links

Richard Branson, Support for Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites

Statement from Virgin Galactic

Orbital Sciences Corporation, Updates on ISS Commercial Resupply Services Mission (Orb-3)