The Day When All Tech Went Boom

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of tech.  Though I’m more of a fan when tech works the way it’s supposed to, and isn’t plagued by glitches, or just plain meanness when it comes to working properly.  But today sort of took the cake when it came to tech and me.  And of course, it started early.

When I got to work, there’s a small terminal that I use to bring up reports and print them from the prior day’s information that needs to be catalogued.  I got to work at 7:30a and the last time the terminal had seemingly done anything was an hour prior.  As I went to type in my username and password, I got nothing.  Bupkus.  Nothing was being printed on the screen from the keyboard.  Now with the terminal, it’s basic 1970’s technology in a room of computers that are most definitely from the 21st century.  Yes, it’s a dinosaur held over from a bygone era.  But it’s necessary, as I’m not permitted access to the more reliable (and newer) computers.

Unlike most computers, where there’s a reset button, or the ubiquitous Ctrl+Alt+Del combination would bring solace, this terminal has only an On/Off switch that can be used.  Turn it off, wait a minute and turn it back on.  Usually one gets back to the beginning but today was going to be different.  Three times I tried, and nothing happened.  Sure, there was a green backgrounded ‘CRT’ legend in the middle of the monochromatic screen, but no soap.  I informed the proper person that there was an issue, expected to come back later to find it was fixed, and went on my merry way.

By lunchtime, I had a message from my wife telling me that the automated litter box wasn’t working correctly.  The power light was blinking red, and it wasn’t running or cleaning the box.  I have a security camera set up in the basement to be able to see it at any given time, and checking my phone determined that the rake was stuck in the ‘up’ position near the waste container and wasn’t moving.  Texting back to my wife, I asked her if the box was on or off, since I couldn’t see the light from that angle.  She said she turned it off, as it didn’t seem to be working, so it was better to not have power running to it.  I told her I’d fix it when I got home, rather than having to describe how to fix it herself.  She was grateful and on went my day.

By afternoon, it was getting closer to quitting time.  I happened to see my old bakery manager at the store, and she motioned me over.  Apparently she’d been having issues with her router, and needed technical assistance.  Over the years I’ve fixed her computers, and I even recall setting up this particular router when she got a new one and seemed unable to get it going on her own.  She wasn’t distraught, but she was insistent that she needed assistance sometime today,  I told her I was getting off work soon and I’d see what I could do to help.

Finishing work I headed home and had the litter box fixed in about five minutes.  As I suspected, the rake was stuck because it was trying to lift too much weight.  With each new model that the company puts out, it seems to be using less and less power in their motors.  When it can’t lift the weight anymore it reverses and leaves the pile near the waste box, and continues to pile things up until it gets stuck.  Then the little red light comes on and one hopes that the human will find it before there’s a huge mess.  Depending on where the box is, that’s not always the case.  But I got it fixed and on to the next issue.

My wife informed me as I came upstairs that the Amazon Shows that are upstairs (she has a ‘5’ and I have an ‘8’ on our respective nightstands) were not communicating and when she attempted to have them play music, they responded with something that she couldn’t hear.  Or understand.  So I traipsed upstairs, got them both working and came back down.  At that point I asked if she was interested in taking a little trip with me to see what I could do about the router issue.  My wife hadn’t seen my bakery manager in many years and didn’t mind tagging along.  Too, she had some wine coolers that she decided to bring with her and share while I worked.

The issue with the router wasn’t really all that difficult.  The biggest hurdle for me turned out to be that the router wasn’t hard wired to a computer.  Apparently she was using the router wirelessly to her iPad, her phone and her Kindle, and just needed someone to ‘talk’ to the router to get it reset and protected.  I ginned up a couple of secure passwords, logged into the router’s onboard menu and within about 20 minutes had everything secured.

Upon coming home, it was time to relax.  I wasn’t expecting anything else technical to break and I was blissfully rewarded when nothing did.  June is over, Thursday is over.  On to July.  We’ll see what that month brings.

Technically speaking, Part IV

When we last left this series, I was planning on changing the location of the router and fiber modem.  Instead, I chose to run my Cat 6 cable to the middle of the house, except in this configuration, I changed the wireless repeater to an access point.  This way, the router, and modem can stay in place, be hard-wired to the computers and the access point will do the heavy lifting in terms of extending the wireless signal to the rest of the house.  I also reset and reprogrammed the repeater to the upstairs bedrooms, and everything seems to be working the way it’s supposed to.

The big test was this past week when we were on vacation.  Before we walked out the door last Saturday I checked, re-checked, and then re-re-checked the system, to make sure there weren’t any drop-outs or signal loss or degradation.  The cobbled-together system worked like a champ.  Our security cameras stayed connected, all the smart bulbs and smart plugs stayed in contact with the router and the router itself, being that it’s connected to the cloud, was accessible to me even on the other side of the state through both my laptop and cellphone.

Even so, while we were on vacation, we stayed in a place that had a more advanced version of a home network.  It’s from Netgear and it’s called Orbi.  In the house, (which is on 2 floors), there was the actual router, and two physical satellites installed on the walls (the outer walls, though it might have been the correct placement for the building) which by my estimation bathed the house in high-speed wifi coverage (what’s now being called WIFI6 or .   The few times I checked the speed on my phone, I was getting throughput in the 650-700 Mbps range, which was more than sufficient for doing things that I needed to at the time, and anyone else using the wifi signal/coverage would have been able to do the same.  As far as I could tell, there was no signal drop, and everything that needed to be connected to the system stayed connected.  Unfortunately, it’s not an inexpensive system, and outlaying $400-$1200 for more advanced wifi coverage for me isn’t an option.

As of right now, my own system is working just fine.   As a matter of fact, it’s working better than I’d anticipated.  Honestly, I’d tried this method once before, purchasing a dedicated access point and installing it in the house about midway, but it didn’t work.  Though as I recall at the time I attempted to do it wirelessly and that seemed to be where things fell apart.  Instead of taking the system a step further and hard-wiring the AP to the router, I gave up.  I went back to just using wireless repeaters, and degrading my signal through the piggy-back system, and making do.

Technically speaking Part III

Now that I have the router up and running, it’s now time to decide where the best place to put it.  Since we moved into the house, the router and modem have been in close proximity to the main computers here.  That is, in the addition off the main house in the back of the property.  For whatever reason, it’s really been the place that we spend the majority of our time, year in and out.  Which is weird sometimes, considering it’s a 3 1/2 bedroom house, on two stories.  We don’t have children, so 2 1/2 of the bedrooms have become de-facto storage space.

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D-Link DIR-868L router

Getting back to the issue though, our WiFi setup has been incredibly wrong since the beginning.  If you consider how WiFi works through a router, the antennas send out a signal in all directions, as long as you have them pointed in the correct configuration.  The old D-Link router I had for the past 6 years had an omni-directional antenna, in that it was encased inside the housing and wasn’t visible. 

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TP-Link Archer A8 router

 

Most routers have the ubiquitous 3-4 (or nowadays more) antennas and most people (me included…yes guilty) leave them in the standard up position without even considering that they can be directed where you want your WiFi signals to go.  By all that I understand, generally you want your router to be in the middle of the action, where you spend the majority of your time, so that you can get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of WiFi coverage.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to invest in things like Access Points, repeaters, even possibly a second router to adequately cover your house and property.  Of course, it’s not as simple as that (it never is, right?) because in most instances you don’t just have a router, you have to consider where your modem is, whether it’s fiber, cable or even DSL (I’m guessing satellite is probably similar, but I’ve never had a satellite Internet downlink).

In my case, the modem sits next to the router.  When we upgraded to fiber 4-5 years ago, the installer asked where to put the modem.  At the time, I had thought probably it would have been a better option to put it in the middle of the house, near the west facing exit door, but our computers are here in the addition, where the router would be.  The house was built in the 19th century (1838), so it wasn’t designed with electricity in mind, let alone hi-speed Internet connections.  Consequently, when the house was wired sometime in the 1950’s (I’m guessing based on the age of some of the outlets) there wasn’t a lot of thought put in to where those outlets needed to go.  So it was very haphazard.  Over the last 20 years we’ve been upgrading outlets as needed, because the very idea of re-wiring this house might end up costing us more than the property is valued at.  Too, to do a proper re-wiring, one needs full access to walls and such, to pull wire.  So we’d have to basically demo the interior to a degree that makes my eyes water.  Most people’s houses it wouldn’t be an issue because drywall isn’t all that expensive.  Plaster on the other hand?  Double your price estimate.  Or triple it.  There aren’t many qualified plasterers these days.  Believe me, I know.

As of right now, my plan is to put the modem and router more central to the middle of the house and run either Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable back to the addition to a switch so both of the desktops can be hardwired to the router.  Hopefully that will assist with the remainder of the house being covered by both the low speed WiFi (2.4 ghz) and the higher 5 ghz connection.  After I’ve had it connected and running for awhile, I’ll give another update.