Friday, February 10, 2012


I did a little retail therapy this week and picked up a new toy for the master bathroom:

At $80 I wanted to give it a spin and indulge myself.  I've been carrying my laptop into the shower lately and while it's nice to have music, I worry about knocking it over, getting it wet, etc.  I actually suggested to my dad that he check out roku back when he was using an old laptop for netflix streaming.  After playing around with the roku a bit on my last two trips home, I was tempted to get one for myself sometime.  The WD player is a lot like the roku only it's more adept at playing local content.  We happen to have a number of movies on our file server now (thanks Trevor) and I figured I should make them accessible in the event I decide to spend 2 hours in the ice bath.

The new toy needs a shelf to call home

While playing around with the toy last night with neighbor Brad and roommate Trevor we got into our usual discussion about wifi vs ethernet.  I realized that most other people, even very tech-savvy people like neighbor Brad, aren't as silly as I am about hard-wired network devices.  Most other people configure things for their wifi once and forget about it.  My guess is, most homes have no more than 3-4 devices.  In other words, most homes have no need for any more than the 4 ports offered on most routers.  I, on the other hand, have a 16 port gigabit switch connected to my gateway and almost every port on that switch has something plugged into it.  When it comes to wires, particularly network wires, my freak flag flies at full mast.

18 network jacks + 6 RCA jacks = 100% geek
I'll start with my Uverse Gateway (aka the cable modem) connected to a uverse DVR (this is the one internet enabled device I no longer have any interest in, I'd get rid of it if roommate Paul didn't like himself some Tosh.0 and Squidbillies.)

Every home needs a 16 port gigabit switch 
The uverse gateway is connected to my gigabit switch, or more accurately, the switch uplinks to the gateway, so that's port 1 on the switch (or port 16 depending on how you see it, although the switch in question is auto sensing so you can uplink from any port, we could call this port 7 if we wanted to, I don't even remember which port is connected to the gateway.)

What about the other 15 ports?

1. Sony Blue Ray Player (for firmware updates mostly since it doesn't do streaming content, I bought it just a bit too long ago.)  I can just plug this directly into the gateway and probably will if/when I need to free up a spot on the switch.
2. My mini ITX Windows 7 web/ftp server and htpc ( and all run off this box, it uses 20-some watts at idle so I don't feel too guilty leaving it on permanently and it has gigabit ethernet so it's more than capable of serving up content to multiple devices at the same time.  The drives are hot swapable from the front and are currently stocked with a 2TB music and photos drive and a 3TB movies drive.  The other cool point is hdmi out with audio so I can just do one cable to the receiver and I still have an analog audio out or optical out I could use for a 2nd zone (i.e. watching the dvr in the living room and listening to pandora off the htpc in the kitchen).   I can do slideshows + music for parties, and it's a 1u rackmount so it takes up almost zero space, plus it's so easy to swap drives in/out as price points drop and hard drive capacity increases.

My friend Shelley calls me "Man Cave Dave"

All of that is on a dell half height server rack in the man cave.  From top down the server rack has an unused KVM mounted high (which should probably be moved lower since it can't opened in the position it's in) then the gateway and dvr sitting on the top shelf.  The next shelf has the receiver.  The shelf below has a blue ray player.  Then I have a blank shelf which currently has some dvd's on it b/c junk seems to have a way of piling up where open space used to be, and then the bottom shelf has the 1u computer and a power conditioner underneath it (think glorified powerstrip).

But wait, you say, that's only 3 of the 16 switch ports, what about the other 13?  The answer lies in the fact that I have a one and a half 12 keystone wallplates filled with network jacks which feed throughout the rest of the house (the other half of the 2nd 12 port plate holds 3 pairs of rca's, more on that later.)  Yes, I painstakingly ran 18 network cables, more than 1000ft of cat5e, some through the attic, some between the two floors, everywhere I thought I might need them.  I only missed one spot so far, I didn't cover the far side of the kitchen and I'm a tiny bit bummed I forgot about that.  I'm a big fan of wire, particularly network wire, and I'm a bit of a grump about wifi for anything that doesn't have to move around.  And we aren't even really getting into the 15 different runs of speaker wire or the hdmi and vga cables.

Let's do a top down approach to the final 13 switch ports which are connected to most of the 18 available jacks.

Two wires are coiled up in the attic, unused, waiting for their shot.  I'm going to take one to Paul's bedroom this weekend so he can skype with his sweetie in private and not worry about the wifi flaking out on him.  I always intended to put at least one jack in that bedroom and so far it has none.

Two go to Trevor's bedroom which I built out as my home office.  I gutted the closet and did some shelves up high and a really wide marble desk, then the power and network jacks below on left and right side, leaving the center of the desk for kicking the wall when the app I'm building doesn't compile.  I've never actually sat at that desk, as soon as it got done my life situation changed and Trevor moved in.  Since he doesn't have any need to hang up clothes, and he spends a lot of time in his room watching movies, it's a pretty good setup for him.  He has his 27" imac plugged into one of the jacks and I've got an airport express in the other jack, trying to expand the coverage of the wifi better.  I could just get a better router that would cover the entire house, heck that would be cheaper than the overpriced airport express, but I like the uverse firmware for routing incoming web/ftp traffic to one specific server regardless of IP.  And I like the name resolution from inside and outside without having to use .hosts files as I did with cox cable's barebones router.  So, anyway, Trevor's bedroom has 2 jacks, Paul's bedroom has none but should get one of the 2 spares which are sitting coiled up in the attic like a snake, waiting for him.  That leaves 9 open ports on the switch or 12 jacks left to cover.

I have one network drop in the corner nook just outside my master bedroom.  That's where I have a 2nd mini-itx pc mounted underneath a triangle desk with a bosu ball chair.  This is a complete desktop setup, but it really exists only to upload my garmin data for me.  I charge my ipad, my garmin, my mp3 player, my phone, and my laptop.  It's a perfect setup for me, I spend at most an hour of my day at that mini desk, and yet it's fully usable for 8 if I ever needed or wanted to work from home again.  We're down to 8.

Home office on a budget

I have two jacks inside the master bedroom.  One was intended for an alarm control panel, I just ran a wire to where the old alarm panel was installed since I thought that might be a good idea.  I ended up using it for my chumby (think internet enabled alarm clock) because the damn thing would drop wifi every once in a while and that irked me to no end.  So I splurged on a $10 usb ethernet dongle and now the chumby is super reliable although having 2 wires coming out of the back is a little unsightly even if the dongle itself is tucked away behind my nightstand.

Overpriced alarm clock thanks to /mdk

The 2nd jack is the one in the master bathroom that feeds the new streaming media player hooked up to my bathroom tv.  So now I can sing along in the shower and not have to hear my own voice like I do when I have the laptop going in there.  And I don't have to worry about knocking over the laptop and breaking it on the tile or getting it wet.  The media player plays every file format I have on my server (avi, wma, mp3, etc) and has all the online streaming services (netflix, pandora, etc).  It's really cool, very fast, and super easy to use.  Ironically, I have no network jack for the wall opposite my bed, and no tv on that wall either.  My gut tells me that most normal people with multiple tv's have one in their master bedroom.  And I can't say that the concept is abhorrent to me, but I just always envisioned a really resonant piece of art for that wall.  If anything, I'd like to try to simplify my bedroom even more, the less clutter I can see from bed, the easier it is for me to drift off to sleep.

So that's a half dozen left.  We head downstairs for the rest.  Starting from the street, I have 2 wires between the phone access box and the man cave server room.  This was mostly to handle a possible future fiber connection (thinking way too far ahead) from the street (don't ask me how this would even be possible, I just ran wire in case, though I should have run fiber too, but I didn't know too much about which type of fiber to run, so I just ran some boring cat 5e.)  So, that's 2 cat 5e cables sitting around unused and purposeless, jacks which go nowhere effectively since the other ends aren't hooked up to anything.  Maybe someday this would support network monitoring of a solar power inverter or an electric car charger since it's right next to the circuit breaker box.  Or maybe I steal one of those wires for the east wall of the garage if I had any reason to do so.

This weekend's efforts will center on finishing up the garage audio.

Speaking of the garage, I have two jacks in the media closet in the garage which is in the northwest corner.  Those are actually connected and I have a dell mini 9 netbook to jam pandora or stream files off my server when working in the garage.  The mini 9 is small and fits in the garage media closet with room to spare, but I think I much prefer my new toy's streaming capabilities since the mini 9's atom processor leaves something to be desired in terms of performance when running windows.  It seems to be OK with ubuntu, so I could swap that out too, but I think those things are mostly throwaway at this point.  The western digital streaming device has hdmi, optical digital out, and a remote control whereas the netbook has vga only and no remote.  The future of home entertainment does seem to be shifting towards these streaming devices which are basically stripped down, single-purpose, low power, small form factor computers.

So, we're down to 4 or 2 depending on how you count (since the 2 wires to the phone/cable street box aren't connected to anything)  The last 2 that saw any real use are in the dining room and are currently not connected to anything, but at one point this was the spot where my downstairs pc lived.  Then I got a dining table and had to move the desk away from the wall to make space for it.  Now the jacks aren't used, though they'd be the perfect spot for a tiny printer since they are right by the front door.  Or, if I ever pony up for my own iMac, since I already bought this super cool wall mount for it, I could consider using that wall and hard-wiring the iMac.  Right now the stand is on the wall opposite the jacks, the one place where I should have run network cable but didn't, and now it's too late since everything is closed up and it'd be a ton of drywall destruction to steal from the one side to feed the other side.  So, to offset my stupidity, I use this absolutely beautiful iMac wall mount as an apron hanger.

Last, there are 3 jacks on the wall that has the tv, along with 9 speaker cables (2 for the kitchen, 3 for left, right, center, 2 for subwoofers + rca's for powered subs, 2 for front surrounds aka wide front).  Those 3 network cables are not currently used either, they are just sitting around waiting for a purpose.  Since I ran the speaker wire I figured I'd run network cable as well since the wire itself is pretty cheap and so many devices can put it to use.

I experimented with an infrared extender over cat5 for the tv remotes since all of the parts are in the man cave which is in the back corner, but never got that device to work properly, and the IR to RF extenders I was using seem to trip out the uverse dvr (though they work well for all of the other devices) so we just keep the door to the man cave open for now, at least until I get a new logitech universal remote with built in RF (aka the 900 which costs an arm and a leg.)  The left and right network jacks on the tv wall may never see much of any purpose beyond temporary use, but the one in the center which comes out with the hdmi cable that feeds the tv will most likely be useful when we upgrade to a new tv since almost every new tv comes with an ethernet jack for firmware and streaming.

And that is how a geek like me puts a 16 port gigabit switch to work.  All of which reminds me of perhaps my favorite scene from Breaking Bad: ("What element comes to mind???")


  1. I love hearing about how other geeks design their home networks. Thanks for sharing!

  2. i am not sure what you were talking about but happy to see this clip from one of my favorite shows.