Friday, August 30, 2013

PogoPlug Airport Airplay Express Music Receiver

Thanks to user,delakota555, who replied to a recent Airplay post.  I went ahead and looked into Shairport. Shairport is an open source AirTunes emulator. It runs in Linux and I installed it on my hacked $15 ArchLinux PogoPlug.

OK, this is pretty awesome. I had a spare $3 USB sound card dongle lying around and in less than 15 minutes, I had an Airplay remote speaker set-up using a PogoPlug V4 I had lying around. Why is this awesome? $20 in parts and you have yourself a streaming Airplay iTunes receiver. You can buy a few of these and litter them around your house for remote speaker set-ups.

Pictured below is the V4 PogoPlug, a USB stick, the USB sound card, ethernet and voila, Airplay!

The Pogoplug instantly shows right up on my iPhone.

On iTunes, I can stream music to multiple speakers around the house. I think I'll be investing in some more $15 PogoPlugs shortly.

As you can see below, I can stream Airplay music to multiple Airplay devices including the PogoPlug. I love this. I love the ability to walk from room to room, floor to floor and hear the same music streamed throughout the entire house.

I followed this blog post for a pre-compiled binary and that was it.

Link: Shairport

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Edimax AC1200 USB 3.0 802.11ac Wi-Fi Dongle review for OS X

Do you have 802.11ac envy? I did and I cured it with a USB 3.0 dongle.  802.11ac is the next generation Wi-Fi and has been billed "Gigabit wireless" with speeds up to 500 Mbits/second or in short, around 62 MB/sec (theoretical). They claim it gets 867 Mbps (108 MB/sec) which is almost triple the 300 Mbps of 802.11n. However, in the real world, 500 Mbps is what you'll likely get.
The 802.11ac spec can be found on wikipedia.

Today, I am going to give you my short review of the Edimax AC1200. They claim it is the world's first USB 3.0  Wifi Dongle that supports 802.11AC. I don't know if that is true or not but they also noted they had OSX drivers so I decided to take it for a spin. It goes for $40 street price.

So if you are a USB 3.0 mac user who hasn't bought a new summer 2013 Haswell Macbook Air, this is the dongle for you.

I also recently upgraded to a TP-Link AC1750 (Archer C7) dual-band AC Wi-Fi Gigabit Router that supports the new 802.11AC standard. This would be a good test to see how the TP-Link router fares in "AC" mode.

First of all the build quality of the Edimax dongle is very cheap. I has a very flimsy build. Next, they did not supply a cap. This is something I don't want to throw in my backpack as I head out the door in the morning. Lastly, it is a rather bulky device. On either side of my Macbook Retina, it blocks either the HDMI or a Thunderbolt port. I figure this was designed more for stationary use than for mobile road warriors. The antenna flips our for reception but I didn't notice any gains with it open or closed.

Like many 3rd party Wi-Fi dongle for OSX, there is a separate application to control the Wi-Fi connection. It is not built into the OS and the OS merely sees it as another NIC. This basically means, you can't switch networks in the top menubar. Furthermore, in the past, most 3rd party Wi-Fi apps I've dealt with were buggy and problematic. The jury is still out on how the Edimax's implementation differs from others in the past. Time will tell if the drivers and apps will be continued to be fully supported.

As you can see below, I am running at 5GHZ channel and the Link speed is 867 Mbps (which is 802.11AC's spec)

The system profiler reports it as a USB 3.0 device that uses up the 5 Gb/sec bandwidth so everything looks good.

Now for the testing.

Connected to a standard Apple Airport (I believe it is a 2.4 GHZ 802.11g), I didn't see any real gains compared to the built in Wi-Fi on my 15 inch Macbook Pro Retina. I am running iperf to my Thinkpad which normally reports 112 MB/sec when connected to a gigabit switch.

I then took it home and tested it on my new TP-Link AC Wi-Fi router. I ran a few tests.

The first is in my basement of my 3 story house. This is where I would need the speed the most as it is farthest from Wi-Fi router. I ran two sets.

From the screenshot below, I ran the following: Edimax 802.11AC, the built in Macbook 802.11n Wifi, and the last is the Thunderbolt to Gigabit adapter.

The Edimax did so-so at 6.5 MB/sec. This was an improvement over internal which ran at 4.5 MB/second. Connected to a machine that is directly wired via CAT6 gigabit in the same basement room, the Thunderbolt gigabit dongle easily hits gigabit's theoretical ceiling at 112MB/sec.

It appears that 802.11AC suffers the same fate as 5GHZ 802.11n. Performance degrades when you are not in line-of-sight. I think I might be better off just getting a 802.11n 5GHZ repeater in the basement so all my portable devices benefit.

So,before returning this dongle, I took my Macbook Pro to the main floor where the router is and re-ran the test several times. I was able to hit over 50 MB/sec. Not quite "gigabit" speeds but clearly a strong showing. All devices will have some overhead and hitting 50 MB/sec is pretty impressive. The last 25 MB/sec reading was a test as I was on the stairs; walking down another floor. Impressive indeed.


Your results will definitely vary depending on many circumstances. You definitely need to re-invest in new routers that support 5GHZ 802.11AC. Using an old G/N router won't yield you any gains. Furthermore, 5GHZ vs 2.4GHZ has its pro and cons. 2.4GHZ is more heavily trafficked and congested but it does have better range. For example, on my third floor, it doesn't matter if I am running 2.4GHZ or 5GHZ. I don't know if I can recommend this product yet.

The jury is still out on reliability and long-term usage.  Customer reviews have been mixed. I'm personally used to wired Gigabit and where I need the speed the most (my basement), the dongle doesn't give me any significant gains for my uses. I'm impatient and when I need to copy large files over the network, I simply plug in wherever I have a wired port.

Links: Edimax Product page, Amazon Product page

Friday, August 23, 2013

The beauty of Airplay

I was thinking about plopping down $35 for the Google HDMI dongle, the Chromecast. However, I happen to get a few airplay speakers in which my opinion went 360 degrees. The Chromecast only does video and not a good job at that. I listen to music mostly so audio streaming is pretty important for my use case needs.  Yesterday, I got a Klipsch G-17 and a Sony SA-NS500. When I set-up them up, I discovered something I never knew before: Multiple streaming to various speakers simultaneously. Take that AD2P Bluetooth! You don't get that compress AM sound of Bluetooth with Airplay and you don't need to pair if you are on the same network. I live in a house with three floors and approximately 4,000 sq foot and Airplay works everywhere. Bluetooth works at most 15 feet.

I did not pay attention until now but the ability to stream multiple speakers all at once is a stroke of genius.

The Chromecast would have a been a fun toy at $35 but I have no need for extra gadgets I often throw away into the sock drawer after 15 minutes of use. The key deterrent was the fact some of the streaming is gimped and not available on the low-end Chromebooks which I have. In addition to video, the key thing I use Airplay for is for music. Airplay is really mature and I can't wait to get my free iTunes radio (iTunes Match subscribers get ad-free playback). This will be pretty cool to listen to all that free music all over the house. This means, I think I will be investing a little more in Airplay and airplay devices.

Now, I think I'm going to invest in some AudioEngine A5+ and an Airport Express set-up. I just ordered a refurb Airport Express station for $65. I think it is well worth it. I may even splurge on some high-end Bowers and Wilkins A7 this Christmas.
Simply brilliant. The ability to walk from room to room, floor to floor, with all the speakers playing the same music track all synchronized is pretty cool indeed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 5510L quick look

I recently upgraded my Mi-Fi. I now have the Jetpack 5510L. This is a big improvement over the Novatel 4510L it replaced.

I'll keep this short review quick and simple. This is a big improvement over the older MiFis I've been using. It is rated at 8 hours versus 3 or 4 hours I was getting with the older device. Also, it has a nice read out display with navigable menus. Lastly, the thing I like about it is the the ability to charge and use the device with USB.  The last model had a weird set-up that prevented charging when you plugged it into a computer; making it act as a data modem. This model, you can switch how you want USB to be handled via the web admin interface, I also like the handy and quick glance of the monthly data usage in the LED panel.

Overall, I think it is a big improvement over the previous models.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Acer C7 Chromebook Quick Review

So I ended up getting an Acer C7 Chromebook. It was $122 refurb so I figured why not.

The Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2847) is basically a rebadged, re-worked 11.6 netbook running Chrome OS. It is based off the Acer Aspire V5-171. Acer didn't do much to the design except swap out a few keyboard labels.

It is as boring as it gets. 11.6" screen with piss poor viewing angles and an anemic battery life of 3 hours. Did I mention I got it for $122? That is the saving grace. The chassis is made of the cheapest tupperware plastic that can be found yet it manages to pull down 3 pounds in weight. This is a half pound heaver than the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

So how does it compare to the Samsung's ARM based Chromebook? See below.

Generally speaking, the Acer is much faster due to the fact it is running an INTEL processor. There are various benchmarks showing the speed advantage of the Acer. It also has three USB ports, a VGA port, HDMI, and an 10/100 ethernet. The Samsung model lacks the ethernet, one less USB and does without the VGA. I can see the advantage to having the onboard ethernet for some scenarios.

Also, because it runs on an X86 platform, it has a much wider selection of INTEL only applications like VNC Viewer which is unavailable on the Samsung.

Another advantage to the Acer is it the fact it has a 320GB storage. That may or may not be important to you but with 320GB, you can probably store quite a few MP4 movies for local playback. Hence, the Acer isn't a total disaster. It is also much more upgrade-able. You can easily up the RAM cheaply and this makes it a decent UBUNTU portable netbook if you are so inclined to go that route. The 3 hour battery life can be fixed with a larger 6, 9 cell battery that you can buy later on.

However, I would still pick the Samsung over the Acer. The Samsung has a better fit-n-finish. The screen, keyboard, and trackpads are much better. The keyboard on the Samsung has better travel and the trackpad operates with less glitches than the Acer. The Acer also heats up under use. The Samsung can be used on a lap while lounging whereas the Acer gets warm after a few minutes. Lastly, out-of-the-box, the Samsung has a better runtime of 6-7 hours.

So there you have it. My short take on the Acer C7 Chromebook. Did I mention I got it for  $122!

Securing my house

My house is three floors with 7 doors and around 12 accessible windows. I recently secured it with a Monitronics alarm system as well as equipping it with several Foscam IP cameras around the house.
I have to say I am very pleased with the set-up.

The Alarm system is completely wireless; relying on Verizon cell service. This means no need for a land line. Monitronics sell under various re-sellers and I am content with the one I got. I'm sure I can get a cheaper alarm system as many of my friends can attest to. However, I didn't want to get involved with the installation and buying the equipment. I pay $40 a month with a three year contract which comes out to the same as buying the equipment outright and going through some $8-10 a month service. I don't have the added cost of a land line so the cheapest alarm system would be in the $20-25 range if you included a land line telephone. In three years when my contract is up, I can take the equipment and go elsewhere. The house was already armed with another contract but I wanted to start fresh with newer technology.

The system has a nice touch pad panel system and pretty much everything can be controlled via a smartphone, tablet or web browser. You can arm the doors/windows and motion sensors or just the doors/windows alone. There are some nice touches like multi-user pin numbers and the chimes for different doors and windows. Since I have three floors, the panel chimes if my kids are coming from the side door in the basement. It chimes in a voice, "Basement side door open" or "Kitchen window open." The only thing it doesn't have that I like is the ability to arm by floors. For example, I would simply just like to arm everything in my basement and leave the other two floors disarmed.

Overall, it works and I can't complain yet.

Next, surveillance cameras. I ended up standardizing on Foscam fi8910w and fi8918w cameras. I can't tell you what the differences are and I'm sure someone out there has a comparison chart. I picked the Foscam for their price, reliability, reputation, and most importantly  the price. I usually pick them up when they hit the $60 price mark on sale.

The great thing about the Foscams are the great third party application support. In the past, most cameras relied on Active-X and Internet Explorer support. The new ones work pretty much with anything. Sure, I use the server push web browser to configure but there are apps for phone, tablet, and computers.

Here is FoscamPro for the iPad.

I also use a few on the Android app store. Here is IP Cam Viewer Basic running on my $99 firesale HP TouchPad. I finally put that gadget to use and out of the sock drawer. I was previously using a spare Windows laptop but I figure an old, unused tablet will consume less power running 24x7. I'll end up re-purposing my old tablets for each room to use as portable multi-cam viewers.

Most of the tablet and phone apps are great for quickly viewing the grid of cameras and controlling them. The Foscam are PTZ (Pan, Tilt, and zoom) and works even under low light conditions with IR sensors. The Wi-Fi range is pretty good considering I have them across three floors.

However, the thing I really like is the ability to listen to sound and send sound. My house was wired with an ancient intercom system and I can't seem to find modern multi-room intercoms any more. The Foscams now serve that purpose. From my phone, I can hit a microphone icon and tell my kids to get upstairs for dinner. Extremely handy!

Now, the smartphone and tablet apps are great but one thing I need is the ability to record and review video. I couldn't find much for non-window platforms (OSX and Linux) so I ended up building myself a Windows XP build running inside a VM on my VMware ESXi vSphere home server. I made a 20GB VM with several 60GB data drive disk containers and installed iSpy Connect. It is free and open source. I thought about spending $50 for something popular like Blue Iris but so far iSpy does everything I need. I can record on motion or sound. As for multi-view web interface, I don't need that paid feature from iSpy or even Blue Iris since I already have them on my smartphone and tablet.

Running the DVR recording in a Virtual Machine is pretty handy as well. I can clone and provision the build easily for backups and with a low wattage ESXi server, I don't think I consume more than .020 kWH per hour. If I need to control the software, I simply RDP or VNC into it from my other computers.


So far, I think everything is working as it should. I am very pleased with the set-up. For privacy reasons, I blurred out some of the photos/views. I hope this blog posts help you on your security and home surveillance needs.


Foscam Pro

IPCam Viewer Basic

iSpy Connect:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Adventures in moving to a new place.

I've been really busy and I don't even have internet at my new place yet. It has been a bit crazy so no new tech postings. A few things noteworthy.

First, if you have three floors, do not wire your house with CAT6 wiring. I made that mistake. There are cable length issues and you will need to add some switches or repeaters if you want gigabit. I'm only getting 100 Mbit. I may have to go back and do CAT5E. I did get a new Wi-Fi router with the new AC standard so I'll see how that works.

I discovered Foscam. I've used other IP cameras in the past but I think I am going to standardize on the fi8910w. It works pretty well and I can access and control them with my phone. The Wi-Fi range is pretty good on these so I can stick them anywhere.

I'm still working on my home offices.

So far, I have a small 27" iMac set-up. Doesn't this look stylish with an Artimede Tolomeo desk lamp and a Herman Miller Eames Soft Pad management chair? That is about four grand in office gear before counting the iMac. I feel like Don Draper in that set-up.

For my real workspace, I have a vintage Bent Silberg desk with a Knoll Charles Pollock chair. I wanted a bigger desk to support 3 monitors. You can feel the retro vibe. Since my entire house is mid-century Herman Miller Eames, I may want to swap this out with the Eames ESU storage and a EDU desk unit. Man, that stuff is crazy expensive. $5-6 grand for desks and shelves. Then add the chairs, you'll have yourself a 10 grand office. This will suffice for now.

And for my laptop lounging, the Eames Lounge with an Otto MAG side table. The lounger is absolutely worth the drool. I look forward to spending a few years and decades with that chair.

Hopefully, things will settle in. I got a bunch of new electronic gadgets that need to be un-boxed.