FiOS finale: getting the Airport Extreme online

Why is it that home networking stuff takes so long to resolve? Warning: highly technical and elliptical post ahead.

It took me a few days after my last networking adventure to get the last few items cleared off the checklist, namely getting my network attached storage (NAS) and TiVO into the network. To do it, I came darn near to voiding my warranty on the Verizon-supplied Actiontec MI424-WR before I pulled back from the brink and did something really… well, comparatively simple.

I tried some of the advice on the links I previously posted. Hint: don’t bother, at least if all you want is to put an additional wireless base station on the network. After attempting to put the Actiontec into bridge mode, then restoring factory defaults when my AirPort Extreme didn’t work as advertised, I ended up having to call Verizon to release my DHCP release remotely so the Actiontec would work again.

Back to square one. This time, I set up the AirPort Extreme on a separate SSID from the Actiontec, and darned if it didn’t come up successfully. So now the FiOS internet signal is spread across two overlapping wireless networks, and because they’re all connected to the same base network and the Actiontec is serving all the IP addresses (the AirPort Extreme is in bridge mode), all devices on both networks can see each other.

Okay. So the last step was getting the TiVO online. Under the old setup, I had an Ethernet USB adapter connected to it, running to the AirPort Extreme, which was connected to the cable modem. Only problem is, there’s no cable modem in the area any more, and there’s no Ethernet connection in the room. So how to get the TiVO back on the network?

My original plan was to hook up the TiVO to the Ethernet port on the AirPort Express in the room, but the Ethernet port isn’t active unless the AirPort Express is in WDS mode, which it couldn’t be with the Actiontec. But: it could be with the AirPort Extreme. So I reconfigured the AirPort Extreme and the AirPort Express together as part of a WDS network. Which … well, I gotta say, typing in a hex address is not the most foolproof way to establish a network. Especially when the letter B on a label looks like an 8. But I eventually got it straightened out.

So. The final setup:

  • Fiber to Verizon-provided ONT.
  • ONT: Coax to my Leviton coax splitter, whence it heads to both bedrooms, the kitchen, the library, and the living room, all from one split.
  • ONT: POTS to my Leviton phone distribution, whence it hits both bedrooms and the kitchen.
  • Leviton: Coax to the Actiontec router.
  • Actiontec: Wireless network #1, including the printer.
  • Actiontec: Ethernet to the Leviton, whence both bedroooms and the kitchen.
  • Actiontec: Ethernet to the AirPort Extreme, and thence to wireless network #2, including the living room and the TiVO.
  • AirPort Extreme: has the NAS containing all my music.

You know, all the people claiming that the computer folks ought to kick the crap out of the home theatre guys because of ease of setup? They’re talking out their asses.

Grab bag: cranky, scary, disturbing, and obsessive

Hungry for more Hungry Mother

I’m back in the office for a day after a few days off. What a wonderful Christmas–time well spent with family. I even enjoyed the last Holiday Pops concert we did last Saturday, as well as reading about the audience reacti0n. (Aside: that’s possibly the creepiest concert review I’ve ever seen.)

Last night Lisa and I took a rare night off and went to Hungry Mother in Kendall Square. I’ve been thinking about this place since the first reviews came up last summer, and we finally got to visit. Delightfully, it’s just around the corner from the apartments in which we used to live in Cambridge (formerly known as Worthington Place, now apparently Archstone). The location used to house a neighborhood bar, and now it’s home to this little foodie jewel. Gentrification? Maybe, but the food was so worth it.

First: I don’t know who’s responsible for the cocktail list, but they ride a fine line between insanity and genius. I had a #43 (rye whiskey, tawny port, maple syrup(!) and bitters) and Lisa had a #47 (applejack, aperol, and bourbon). Both were outstanding though a little bit on the deceivingly strong side. Then the meal: a starter of tiny little ham biscuits, fried oysters, shrimp & grits, and fried catfish over hoppin’ john.

Lisa sniffed at the biscuits (she said “I’ve been spoiled by your uncle,” a reference to our breakfasts out at the Moose in Asheville), but said the ham was quite good, though she wouldn’t touch the pepper jelly. I thought the individual components were outstanding–the biscuits crusty to soft, the ham smoky sweet, the pepper jelly perfect–but the balance was off when they were together, as the ham disappeared in the mix.

The fried oysters arrived at the same time. These were all for me–though I offered them to Lisa, she shied away. And I’m selfishly glad she did. They were perfect. If you look up perfect in the OED, there’s a picture of these oysters next to the definition. Breaded in cornmeal and fried till the breading reached a dark brown, they were crunchy outside, soft and sweet inside, and the kohlrabi cole slaw was a cool crunch alongside it. The cornmeal breading reminded me of catfish dinners at Warwick Memorial United Methodist Church off Denbigh Boulevard in Newport News, a summer staple growing up, and it wasn’t until early this morning that I realized that the net effect of the breading was to provide a supplemental “hush puppy” flavor right alongside the oyster. At dinner I mentioned how much I liked the breading to our waitress, and she said, “Ask your wife for some of her catfish.”

Right on cue the entrees arrived. My shrimp and grits were good; Lisa’s catfish was divine. Meatier, with fewer bones and less grease than the church fish fry version I remembered from childhood, it was evocative of my childhood but its own distinct fish. It was superb.

I’d like to go back and try everything else on their menu. I’d also love to sit down and chat with the chef sometime to see if he could squeeze a little more Tidewater into the menu–there’s no such thing as a Virginia cuisine, but what’s there at Hungry Mother is evocative enough of what I recall that I’d love to see what he could do with fried chicken, soft shell crabs, Brunswick stew, Bull Island clam chowder…

I’m also left wondering about how the Surrey House is these days. Before the I-664 bridge, we used to ride the ferry to the South Side to have lunch here after church, and it was a little surreal trip into the past. The menu looks the same as it did then, right down to the she crab soup (but did they also have turtle soup then?).

Grab bag: Post Christmas recipes… for DOOM

Grab bag: Christmas wishes and Verizon workarounds

Using an AirPort Express with FiOS

As I mentioned yesterday, there were a few unfinished items left after the FiOS installation yesterday. I got two of the items taken care of this morning, but I was a little disturbed at what I had to do to make things work.

After the installation was complete on Sunday, I connected to the administrative web page of the Actiontec router that Verizon had provided (and which is required with the Verizon TV package). I reconfigured the router to take over the network name (SSID) that I had been using on my AirPort Extreme, changed the security to WPA2, and set the passphrase to the one I had been using previously. Our laptops and my iPhone picked up the change, but my AirPort Express units (which provide wireless printer support and AirTunes) didn’t. They’re first generation AirPort Express, and do 802.11G and 802.11b only.

After some pulling my hair out this morning, I found a thread on the Apple support message boards that suggested that the original AirPort Express was incompatible with the Actiontec version of WPA2. I changed the Verizon router to use regular WPA and told the AirPort Express to use WPA/WPA2 for authentication. After rebooting, I finally got a good connection (green light) with the Express. My second Express didn’t need any reconfiguration–I simply unplugged it and plugged it back in, and it worked.

So there’s that. What’s left is getting my hard drive, with all my music, back on the network. I may have to run an Ethernet drop into the living room over Christmas. Or try one of the tricks for supplanting the Actiontec for wireless.

(It’s more than a little annoying, btw, that I had to use regular WPA instead of WPA2. WPA2 is a much more secure protocol and WPA has been cracked.)

How (not to) talk to developers

Snow days

3128568302_4154995dfa_oWinter sure came in with a roar. I didn’t go to the office on Friday–we had pushed a new release of our software late Thursday night, and I knew that the storms this weekend were going to snarl up traffic Friday afternoon. So I used the snowblower on the driveway Saturday morning–we had about ten or eleven inches from Friday’s snow–and drove into Boston on Saturday for back-to-back Boston Pops holiday concerts.

It wasn’t too bad, since we were in Symphony Hall all day long, and while there was light snow falling all day there wasn’t more than an additional inch of accumulation. The streets were slushy but negotiable. And Symphony Hall looks nice with snow accenting its features.

Then came Sunday. It was already snowing when I got up at 6 with our dogs, and it just kept coming down all day long. By the time it stopped, sometime between 6 and 9 pm, we had gotten another ten inches of snow on top of the ten or eleven that were already there. It was pretty, but pretty deadly too. I got so winded the third time I went out to shovel, in about 15° weather, that I started coughing uncontrollably and had to stop shoveling. Fortunately Lisa was able to clear the rest of the driveway–there had only been two additional inches since the last time I used the snowblower.

And today it’s hard and bright and crisp and a balmy 23° F. Welcome to winter in New England. The days may be shorter but they feel a lot wider, as Charlie Brown once said.

FiOS Day 2 — post installation checklist

3128551594_2a367f7b7a_oWe have FiOS now. The installers from Verizon left at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon, with handsful of cookies from my wife and thanks from me. They started work about 10 am. In the four and a half hours (including a lunch break) in between, they:

  • Installed a new wall box (shown) to take the fiber from the street and convert its signal to TV, Internet, and phone
  • Ran phone, WAN, and coax into my media panel so that all existing phone, Ethernet, and cable hookups in the house worked
  • Leveraged the existing basement drop to connect the living room jack–the only one not already hooked into the media panel–into the media panel
  • Installed a new wireless base station
  • Ran fiber into the house and lit up the whole network
  • Pulled off the old copper line and house-side box

So: Now gone is all but the last remnant of Comcast. Their box is still on the side of the house, but the three splitters that were between their box and the wall are gone. The new TV signal goes directly from the fiber into my media wiring box and gets split once across the five live jacks in the house. No wonder the picture is better. The phone works well too.

On the other hand, I’m still working through some Internet issues. I couldn’t get my existing base station, an AirPort Extreme, to see the new base station, so I shut it down temporarily–taking my shared music drive offline. I also wasn’t able to get my two AirPort Express units, which provide networking for the printer and AirTunes to my living room stereo, hooked into the new network, but I suspect that’s easily fixed once I get a little dedicated time.

The punchline? Using the SpeakEasy speed test, I recorded up to about 19.5 Mbps down and about 4.9 Mbps up, at multiple times during the day. That’s comparable to the Comcast up rate but about twice as fast as Comcast down.

FiOS day

It’s an exciting day here at the Jarrett house. The new drop that I mentioned on Friday is a fiber drop. We’re in the middle of a Massachusetts snowstorm, with another three to six inches on top of the ten we got yesterday, and Verizon, God bless ’em, is in my driveway getting ready to run fiber into my basement.

Now that’s service. I don’t know what it says about their customer acquisition metrics and their incentive comp that this guy is willing to trudge around my house and do this, but whatever it is, Harvard or someone should write a case study about it, ’cause it’s working.

What do I get with fiber? One line that replaces cable and phone, 20 Mbit/s down and 5 up, and finally I get to kick Comcast to the curb. Plus, as a bonus, the installer is going to clear out some of the muddle of cable splits that were a legacy of my incremental installation approach, and wire the living room off the central panel. Might even get Cat 5 up there by the time we’re done, who knows?

The number one reason I got FiOS out of that whole list, by the way, was not the speed. Even though it’s twice as fast as what we’re getting from cable right now. (It used to be four times as fast, but Comcast recently did a speed boost.) No, I’m excited because I finally get to give Comcast the finger for filtering Internet traffic based on what application you’re using, and for arbitrarily imposing bandwidth caps. Doesn’t matter if I wouldn’t hit those caps today; the way they made the announcement, the fact that you can’t know if you’re exceeding the caps until they cut you off, and the outrageousness of the fines, all mean that they have no idea how to deal with customers.

I don’t have illusions that Verizon is going to be perfect, but I think they’ll be better. I have evidence that suggests they will be.

By the way, here’s my Comcast speed test on a Sunday morning with no one else on the local loop. This is the best speed you get with Comcast. I’ll post an update once the FiOS numbers are in.


Grab bag: Why yes, I’d like to be skiing right now, thanks.

Media wiring project: data cabling

For those that have not been following my structured wiring project (and hard to blame you: it’s been going on since late 2004), here are the highlights to date:

  1. Moved into a 1941 house with no inside telephone wiring and put a temporary fix in place.
  2. Installed a Leviton structured wiring box in our basement and mounted a telephone switching block, a cable T, and punchdowns for Cat 5 wiring.
  3. Ran Cat 5, phone, and coax into the first and second floor bedrooms while the walls were open for our air conditioning project.
  4. Ran all the phone and coax in the house into the structured wiring box
  5. Hook up the new outlets in the kitchen

The major step left incomplete after all this activity was the data wiring. I haven’t had to do a lot of data cabling in the house thanks to 802.11. But with three to four laptops, a TiVO, a Wii, speakers, and a printer all on the same hub, it’s occured to me that lighting up the data jacks that I installed in steps 3 and 5 might be a worthwhile endeavor.

So last weekend I got my wiring tools out, opened up the box, and took a look. I saw my punchdown block but couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to work. But I finally realized that the punchdown block simply provided physical termination for the wire alongside a jack into which the actual data service could be plugged. So I needed to do three things: terminate the two Cat-5 runs from the bedrooms into the punchdown block; buy and install a hub to light up the punchdown block; and extend the short run from the kitchen to the block so I could light it up as well.

It turned out to be really easy. The Cat-5 runs were color coded to the colors on the block, so I simply lined up the wires (blue & white, solid blue, orange & white, solid orange, green & white, solid green, brown & white, solid brown) and used the punchdown tool to knock them into the block. Then I used a crimping tool that I bought back in 2005 to make Ethernet patch cables from some spare Cat-5, and connected the block to the hub. I saved the short run for the weekend; I’ll probably move the long cable I had to the data block, and splice the short one and run it into the voice block.

That leaves one very important step: getting a data feed from the WAN (our ISP) into the hub. I have a plan for that, and it happens this weekend. And it involves a new contractor and a new drop to the house. And I’m very excited about it. Stay tuned!