This post served over wireless

After deciding I was probably never actually going to get around to running CAT-5 in the new house, at least not in the near term, it was time to do something about the abysmal transfer rates offered by the powerline networking I had been using. This uses the electrical wiring in your home to transmit data. There are similar systems for phoneline and coaxial cable.

Powerline networking suggests speeds “up to 85 megabit”, some promise even higher speeds today. I imagine that it’s possible to get decent performance in a small home or between outlets in the same room, or with quiet circuits. With the setup I had, the breaker box in the basement becomes the “switch” for the powerline network. I had three access points: one upstairs in the computer room with the router and desktop/gaming machine, one downstairs in the living room for the media PC and consoles, and one in the basement for the servers. Between any two points I never saw speeds over 10 megabit, and it was usually 4-5 megabit, even lower from living room to router. Connectivity to the basement was always dependable since it was right underneath the breaker box. The living room PC, however, frequently lost connection to the internet which could only be cured by going upstairs, unplugging the powerline adapter, and plugging it back in.

More issues were caused by other electrical devices in the house. Mainly lighting, but also cell phone chargers, using the microwave, etc. If I turn on the porch light, for example, ping goes from 10ms to bouncing between 30-200+ms with packet loss from the living room to the router! Certain cell phone chargers plugged into a particular outlet in the computer room caused connectivity issues. Turning on the desktop fluorescent light would wreck transfer speed to the basement. Etc, etc, etc.

Without running CAT-5 in the walls, the only other solution is really wireless. I have a WRT54GL running DD-WRT upstairs. With my laptop I noted I still had a good signal in the basement. Rather than buying a bunch of wireless cards, I purchased a Wireless N “gaming adapter”, commonly used to connect XBOX 360 consoles to wireless since Microsoft’s proprietary adapter is ridiculously expensive, like most other 360 accessories. After configuring it for my network, I plugged it into the switch downstairs and just like that, the machines are on the wireless.

Transfer speed is much improved from upstairs to the basement, fast enough to stream HD video. Removing the third powerline adapter better than doubled transfer speed from the living room to the upstairs router as well. I’m getting 2.5-2.8MB/s, which is way faster…and that’s just wireless G, WPA2, down two floors and on the other side of the house.

Next is a rework of the wireless network. I ordered a WRT610N to replace the upstairs router. That should dramatically increase the speed of the adapter in the basement. I plan to use the old router as a wireless bridge in the living room to avoid purchasing another gaming adapter and provide service to wireless G enabled stuff, to keep the 610N wireless N only.

March 19, 2010 · agw · No Comments
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Dead hard drives from flight sim project: 2

I like to say all hard drives fail, it’s just a matter of when. Well while going through hardware to build these flight sim boxes, so far two drives have turned up bad. Both were working when stored. Mirror everything unless you want to lose it!

December 12, 2009 · agw · No Comments
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leftwing sputters to life

The machine I plan to use for the view out the left hand side of the aircraft is now up and running. This machine wound up with the following specs:

* Athlon XP 1800+ (1.533GHz) CPU
* 1GB PC 2100
* NVidia FX 6200A 256MB
* 8GB HD
* Some CMedia sound card
* Debian unstable, minimally configured 2.6.32 kernel. Running Window Maker as the window manager, the only app besides Flightgear installed is an xterm (rxvt-unicode).

With this, running at 1680×1050 resulted in 20-26FPS in the fairly busy environment of San Francisco. This should be perfectly adequate for a view out the left window. It makes me worry a bit about the Celeron 1400 though, although the video card should be slightly faster to make up for it.

Building the central machine now, it’ll hold all the scenery files and coordinate the left and right wing views. It’s a 2.2GHz Athlon 64 system, I don’t expect issues with speed, but I’m wondering how the graphical performance will be. It’ll have a Radeon 9600 and be using the open source driver.

December 7, 2009 · agw · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Debian, Flying, Technical

Building the airplane: engines

With a new display for my main workspace upstairs, I now have three identical displays for use building my flight sim machine! Things have shifted around a bit hardware wise since the last time I attempted this. Then, I used a single dual-core system (Athlon 64 X2 4400+) with two Nvidia 7800GT cards to drive three displays. This worked, more or less, but at that time the multi-display stuff for Flightgear required running three different instances of the simulator. This caused some stuttering from time to time, since there were three tasks demanding all the CPU available and just two cores to execute them. Displays weren’t a problem…7800GT was way more power than Flightgear needed.

Now there is multi-display code built in, so you only need to run one “engine.” However, that dual-core machine is now serving as a media PC. I was using a slower machine with HW accelerated video, but Flash – of which there is more and more being used for relatively high-end media – couldn’t keep up. So now it’s a big dual-core machine. To run Flash. That says a lot.

So, I need three “engines” since the remaining hardware is single-core with low-end video cards. The cards I am using:

* ATI Radeon 9600 256MB
* Nvidia FX6200A 256MB
* Nvidia FX5700 256MB

These are all AGP cards. It’s too bad I don’t have any PCI-E hardware left, I have two 7800GTs just lying around! The three machines, short specs:

* Athlon 64 2200MHz, 1GB DDR
* Athlon XP 1533MHz, 1GB DDR
* Celeron 1400MHz, 768MB PC100 registered(!)

The last machine I’m really pushing my luck with, but it’s all I have left. Used to be a file server until I had kos-mos back in service, so I’ll need to remove a ton of hard-drives and the extra noisy fans. It’s actually a slot-1 machine with a Tualatin core Celeron hacked on via a third-party module. It works pretty well, believe it or not. My main concern is memory bandwidth.

These will all be running Debian unstable and Flightgear 1.9.1 from the repositories. If it struggles on the Athlon XP or Celeron systems I might do a CPU-optimized rebuild, but I hope it won’t be necessary. So there will be one 64-bit machine that will drive the primary display, and the other boxes will be left-wing and right-wing. They’ll be stripped down as much as possible, no full desktop etc, custom kernels…we’ll see how it goes.

December 3, 2009 · agw · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debian, Flying, Technical

Not much headroom

Finally pushing into the hardware limits of my stock gaming machine. Config is Win 7 64, Athlon 64 X2 6400+ BE (3.2GHz), Radeon 3870X2. The latest installment in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, namely Call Of Pripyat, has brought my machine to its knees, at least when running with most settings maxed. It’s perfectly fine with the DX9 lighting and high detail, but has to be run at medium with DX10 for acceptable performance.

Well I wanted to establish whether it was primarily the CPU or the graphics card holding it back. Probably a bit of both, since my CPU is old K8 architecture although the fastest stock speed AMD offered. I tried overclocking the CPU first…couldn’t get it stable at 3400 or 3300 at stock voltage. Could juice it up a bit but really…with that kind of result I don’t think I can expect much over 3400, if that. I’m thinking of replacing the CPU first since this thing is old 90nm tech and sucks down power. Although it’s a nice space heater for winter.

Can’t afford to replace either the CPU or video card in the immediate future, though. So will make do with DX9 on high. It’s the only newer game I’m playing at the moment anyway.

November 19, 2009 · agw · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Gaming

Zillow is full of it

There’s no way the old house is worth what their “Zestimate” says it is worth. None. Got to be all those high-end houses in the area, maybe some of them are selling again. But a 43 year old, 3 bed, 1 bath house for the low, low price of $203,000? I think not.

Zillow link

Take a look at the price per square foot vs average sale. Yeah, more than double. Curious. It must be sitting on top of a gold vein visible from space (or publicly viewable county records).

November 13, 2009 · agw · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: House

You know what they say

In the mail today, received a check from the water authority at the old house. I forgot all about that deposit six years ago, but the utility dutifully returned it when the new tenant switched it to their name. A nice surprise, then!

Except in the same day’s mail was the sanitation bill from the city. Wouldn’t you know it – it’s just about the same amount! Easy come, easy go…

October 3, 2009 · agw · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Finance

Too cheap

The door to the basement isn’t installed very well…the top corner rubs on the frame a bit, and the latching mechanism was loose. I haven’t dealt with the door itself, rehanging it or planing the edge or whatever, but I decided to fix the latch.

It appeared to be too small for the hole for one thing. The latch was the “drive-in” type, not the screw-in type I’m more used to. It appears to be used a lot in this house. Anyway, I removed the whole thing and the latch assembly is plastic. It was also broken and only held together by physical interference with the mounting screws for the knob. I know it’s an interior knob, but…plastic?

I replaced it with the old assembly from the master bedroom, which I had replaced with a keyed lock. The drive-in piece fits more securely, but it’s still crooked. Closing the door is easier and it latches securely without any special care, which is an improvement. Plus, no plastic.

September 22, 2009 · agw · No Comments
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Free projector

While doing more cleaning at the rental house, after waiting around for two no-shows, I decided to get rid of the last junk in the storage room. I wasn’t sure what it was – you assume that if a deadbeat tenant leaves something discarded on the floor that it’s worthless. But picking it up, it turned out to be a DLP projector! Surely it doesn’t work. But I cleaned it up a bit and took it home.

Well, it works fine. So now the question is, what am I going to do with a projector?

September 14, 2009 · agw · No Comments
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Mortgage poor

A week or so ago was the one year mark of owning (and making payments on) my new home in Roswell. It also marks a less auspicious anniversary: a year of living “mortgage poor.” It’s my own choice, and I knew going in that it would be painful short term, but it’s worth reflecting on how the past year has gone.

Before I started looking for a new home, I was weighing my options with the old house. It needed windows, siding, and extensive work in the living room. I wanted to add a deck and a door to the backyard, replace the carpet with laminate flooring, and longer term, add another bathroom. I added up the estimated costs for these things, and came to the realization that, with the housing market down, it made more sense to buy another home that already had what I wanted long term. So, I began to look around. After a few weeks I came upon my dream home…and bought it. Ta-da.

I cut back expenses immediately, but with all the extra money involved with closing on the new home, moving, repairs and refinishing the floors at the new home, etc, I quickly ran up a bit over $3k of credit card debt. Not too bad, but I also had to pay for new windows in the old home, one existing consumer loan of about $2k, not to mention two mortgages.

I cut, and cut, and cut some more. No cable. Less internet. No eating out. No landline. This all took me from spending $600 or so per month on the credit card to $200 or less now, with virtually zero entertainment/discretionary expenses. I had a lousy tenant (now gone, more or less kicked out) but with the intermittent rent money I was able to pay off all my old debt in July. Of course, this is when the tenant announced they wouldn’t be able to pay rent anymore. Or utilities. So an extra $200/month of costs (I already counted the mortgage) came into play, when I was already toeing the line of living paycheck to paycheck. I was able to convince my tenant to leave voluntarily, but I don’t expect to receive any back rent or payments for utilities.

So after a year, I’m essentially back where I started – although debt free. Once I get a new tenant, I can begin to build up my depleted savings again and maybe even spend some money on myself. This is a highly novel concept after a year of saying “no” to almost everything. I’m still considering a roommate as well. I’d like to do it, I’m just really reluctant to have a stranger living in my home, especially after my experience with the tenant at the rental property.

In the big scheme of things, I can’t complain. I still have my job (but for how long…), and I’m not going into debt. But it will be nice to get some of my former lifestyle back. I didn’t spend a lot of money to begin with, but spending nothing for an entire year is difficult. I think it helps me to appreciate every little thing that much more, though.

August 25, 2009 · agw · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Finance, House