Writing Challenge Day 6: Easy Home IT Upgrades

So, working from home and the web meeting crashes, eh?

There’s an easy formula:

AVAILABLE BANDWIDTH = Actual Bandwidth / (Gaming console + Netflix + Spotify + IoT Phone Home + Zoom/Webex/Teams + Aquarium livestream for the cat)

If that’s a negative outcome, poor you. But don’t give up yet! You can always ask your ISP for a bigger package. Tell them I’ve sent you.

But no, really, I’m sure most folks here on THWACK already use the fastest connection possible, and for most of us it’s usually fine. But still, there are a few things that can be optimized.

Let’s talk Wi-Fi for a sec.

We all know there are 11 or 13 channels depending on your location, and wavelengths are usually defined but also limited by actual physics.
But we also know that at home, there are different rules!

Let me introduce you to a real world value: DTF;YZMCN
(Distance too far; your Zoom meeting corrupts now)

Unfortunately, it’s a value difficult to calculate, but easy to identify as it’s always a bit shorter than the distance between your access point and the best possible place for your work laptop, like here:

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(Blue line = DTF;YZMCN, Brown cloud = laptop)

What now?
First the obvious one: Get an additional AP.
In my example, it changed to this:

saschg_1-1606846066019.png

Doesn’t cost a fortune and results in a stable and fast connection.
Bonus: During summer, I can join virtual meetings from the beach chair outside, and all year from the second bathroom.

But wait, there’s more!

If you live in an apartment building like I do, you know the Wi-Fi is pretty busy.

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More APs obviously mean better 5gig coverage which is less crowded and favorable, but not every device is compatible. To lower the stress on the Wi-Fi, I put as many devices as possible on a leash.

The general rule: If it doesn’t move, it’s dead a candidate for a wired connection.

So, I bought little switches and connected TVs, consoles, AV receiver, etc. with a cable.
That further improved stability for virtual meetings, but also lowered the latency while killing zombies. It’s all about the priorities, you know!

Pi-Hole FTW!

Now, Leon wrote a bit about Pi-Hole already (you can find it here and here), and it’s one of the best additions for a home network. It’s cheap, deployed within a few minutes, and shows significant improvement and instant results. And it comes with nice charts. Look how pretty!

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The stats are really interesting.
Apparently, my network is very concerned with the well-being of my employer’s website:

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I was a bit surprised until I remembered I use the website as a destination for both a NetPath as well as an external node connection from my home lab.

But I discovered that my robot vacuum is quite chatty:

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Accessing funny domains:

day6_pic7.png

Anyway, a Pi-Hole was a big win for my network, and it shows really interesting information which helps with further optimization.

I just discovered I’m at 500 words already which is more than I wanted to write.
Folks, 2020 surely wasn’t the best year in history, but here we are now in December.

Don’t get stressed out, make the last remaining weeks good ones.
Eat cookies, drink wine. Mind yourself and your families.

Anonymous
  • I bought a new little house and put a lab in it... that's new!  One thing I found myself breaking down and having to buy is a webcam finally against my will.  I GOT CALLED FOR JURY DUTY!!!  At first I thought I'd have to do it remote from home thus the camera.  It ended up I got credit for jury duty and didn't have to do anything!!!  So in some ways the pandemic helped me get out of jury duty. 

    Bill

  • Over the 30+ years in IT, I've become the de-facto tech support option for not only family and close friends, but also my synagogue (and several other synagogues in my area that I *don't* attend; my kid's school(s); and a couple of local businesses (ah, the joy of communal living). It quickly became apparent that if I didn't find a way to jealously (but graciously) protect my time, I'd quickly be stretched past the breaking point, and be of no use to anyone.

    The solution I found worked best was to find (and in some cases build) the local tribe of technically saavy folks and share the wealth. We all know we can lean on each other when we're overwhelmed; We know that - as is fond of saying - "None of us is as smart as all of us."; and we can create healthy boundaries without leaving those who are technologically needy out in the frozen digital wasteland.

  • I know there is more I can do to upgrade my connections and get better service in my home. Heck I even have an old Samsung Wireless Network Extender for the basement to get better phone coverage. The thing that prevents me from just redoing the whole setup is guilt around driving unnecessary consumption. If it works good enough already do I really need that faster router? Should I cable up those static systems with new switches? It is after all just my wife and I - and all our devices. I get it. I have purchased leg extensions for the table so it is inches taller. Allowing me to use an under the desk elliptical. Which then drove the need for better casters on the office chair with brakes on them. So ya consumption and thank you UPS, FedEx, and USPS! But those pale in comparison to the infrastructure pieces. 

    Then there is the fact that our local food banks are being strained by the need in our community right now. If I can live with my 1st world problems for a while longer at least, perhaps I can meet someone else's basic level needs? I totally appreciate that in other parts of the world this is addressed by more civilized societal programs. But alas this is where I exist and must function within those realities.

  • I've never been able to afford home network upgrades but when I can I want to wire the house completely and put in managed wireless as well. I'd love to have my computers and consoles all wired to the network.

  • I took the same route as you and added more APs to my network, pretty easy with Unifi for sure.

    However, looking at your wifi heat map reminded me that I needed to place the walls more accurately on my map though, so I've just gone and removed all the old walls and added new accurately placed and sizes walls to get a better idea of signal strength.

    What has thrown me off is that so many of the IoT devices only support 2.4G wifi, oh well.