Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

Dramagoon Central Gets a New Roof

May 17, 2016
Roofing - End of Day One
Roofing – End of Day One

When we purchased our lovely home more than 18 years ago, the home inspector said that the roof looked good but would probably need to be replaced in about 5 years or so. Those five years came and went. And then, a few years ago, we called a contractor for an estimate and and while inspecting the roof he noticed that we were severely lacking in attic insulation but the roof actually still looked pretty good. So, of course, we tackled the attic insulation instead. This winter, we noticed a little discoloration on the ceiling near the chimney. So, after a great many years, the shingles are getting replaced. And with them, we are getting rid of the odd cupola/weather-vane that never worked and the rooftop antenna that we haven’t needed for over 10 years. Hurrah for home improvements.

Home Networking Project – Five Years Later

October 9, 2015

*** NERD ALERT ***

If you aren’t a geek that loves all things techie, you might want to stop reading now! You have been warned!

*** END NERD ALERT ***

Almost 5 years ago, I was planning to switch from DSL to U-verse and I had decided that to make things easier for the future, I would run network cable throughout the house and create a Network Wiring Closet in a central location in the basement. I documented that project in this post and in this one as well. It has been almost five years since U-verse was installed and although the project was a success, I have made several tweaks to the network that have made things even better.

If you compare this picture of the Network Wiring Closet above to the one in this post, you will see that several things have changed. The first thing that changed within the first year was that the original gray AT&T Residential Gateway (basically a router), was replaced by newer version (black device standing upright on the shelf next to it’s battery backup on the left). During that first year, I had no end of trouble with the wireless functionality of both of the AT&T Residential Gateways. Any Apple devices in the house had an extremely difficult time keeping their wireless connections active over time. Something didn’t seem to work right with the way that they renewed the IP leases. I had thought that the issue was with the original older model Residential Gateway but it also happened with the newer one. By the end of the first year, I gave up on the built-in AT&T wireless technology. I turned it off and added a Linksys WAP300N Wireless Access Point. From that point on, all of my wireless issues disappeared.

The next major addition to the network happened about 2 1/2 years ago when Windows on my primary computer became corrupted and I had to rebuild the hard drive from scratch. Even though I had been backing up many of our important files to a portable external hard drive, not everything was saved. I decided that I needed a more reliable solution for keeping our important things safe. I added a Synology Network Attached Storage (NAS) device with two 2TB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration. With one kid in college and another in high school, we can have up to three separate computers on the network sometimes. The NAS device allows us to store and share all of our pictures, music, videos, office documents, and even computer backups. Additionally, the NAS backs up most of its information to Amazon Glacier cloud storage for even more redundancy. You will also notice that I added an APC uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to allow the NAS to shut down gracefully in the event of a power failure. The UPS and the NAS can “talk” to each other and the NAS can begin shut down procedures when the UPS has been in battery mode for a certain amount of time.

The final additions to the network happened this past summer. Over the past few years, I have acquired several AirPlay speakers and have them set up throughout the house. They are a poor-man’s version of a home audio system. From the iTunes on my main computer I can play music all over the house. This summer, I decided that I wanted to also play music in the backyard when we are out in the pool. Unfortunately, the wireless signal being broadcast from WAP in the Network Wiring Closet in the center of the basement could not reliably reach the exterior of the house. I decided to add a additional couple of network jacks in the sunroom and hook up a second Linksys WAP to extend my wireless reach. You can see that in this second photo.

If you recall from my previous post, I have four rooms in the house with two network jacks in each. Because one port on my 8-port switch has to connect to the Residential Gateway, I wasn’t able to keep all of the network jacks active at the same time. By adding two more jacks in the sunroom, I made the situation even worse. My solution was the final addition to the Network Wiring Closet. I replaced my Linksys 8-port switch with a Cisco 16-port switch. This has allowed me to keep all jacks active and have a couple to spare for possible future expansion.

At this point, I can’t imagine that I would need to add anything more to this system. But, of course, only time will tell.

Home Networking Project – Final

March 1, 2011

*** NERD ALERT ***

This one isn’t quite as nerd-filled as the previous one but still geeky enough to require the warning. Read on at your own risk!

*** END NERD ALERT ***

During February, I completed the rest of the work on my home networking project. I finished wiring the network jacks in the living room, master bedroom, and AJ’s bedroom. I didn’t post any pictures because they turned out exactly like the first one. There were really no major issues with these to speak of. The hardest thing for all of these was the drilling of the hole between the basement and the main floor inside the wall. I had purchased one of those flexible drill bits to help with the task and it didn’t work… at least not for me. What ended up working out the best for me was figuring out where the hole needed be drilled and then drilling through the ceiling of the basement.

As you can see by the picture, we had U-verse installed yesterday. The installer spent about an hour and a half outside in the snow running a new cable from the pole to the house. He indicated that the line outside was so old and in such bad shape that he was surprised that we hadn’t had problems with our DSL connection. Once inside, things went pretty smoothly. Everything that I had done was usable by U-verse. In fact, the installer commented that I have probably saved him about three hours of work. He was uneasy with running the connections for the DVR and set-top box through my switch so he ran those directly through the patch panel. After he left, I re-routed them through the switch with no ill affects.

I will need to spend some time configuring the router the way that I would like… against the advice of the installer. He gave me strict instructions not to change the SSID, encryption, or even the password. The forums on the interwebs, however, indicate that the warnings are to keep the average Joe from screwing things up. After everything was done, I ripped out several hundred feet of coax cable from our Dish installation and some from the cable installation that the previous owners had. If you need some extra coax, I have quite a bit resting at the bottom of our garbage can.

So, with the exception of a few minor tweaks, everything on this project is done. It was a fun adventure and a great learning experience.

Home Networking Project – Phase I

February 8, 2011

*** NERD ALERT ***

If you aren’t a geek that loves all things techie, you might want to stop reading now! You have been warned!

*** END NERD ALERT ***

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to start a project to run network cable (Cat 5e) to several of the rooms in our house. “Hold on”, you say “Why would you do that when you could just use a wireless router instead?” Well, we already have a wireless router and it allows us to connect many of the wireless devices in our house to the internet. We have, however, decided to replace our current DSL and Dish Network plan with AT&T U-verse and need a way to connect the TVs in our bedroom and the living room to U-verse. So you say “Can’t you get AT&T to connect everything together when they come and do the installation?” Of course I could do that. However, I have heard stories and seen first-hand what happens when AT&T comes in to install U-verse.

From what I understand, U-verse set-top boxes and DVRs can be connected using your existing cable (coax) network or via network cable (Cat 5e). And if you don’t monitor the activity of the installer, he/she will take the easiest route to get you connected. In one instance, I saw that they had put the network router behind a dresser in a bedroom because it had a convenient access point to the existing coax network and then had to put an external USB antenna on a desktop computer in another room to get it to connect wirelessly to the router. Additionally, they tend to run the wires through a hole in the floor instead of instead of putting the wires in the walls and exposing them with wall jacks.

Because our existing coax cables (which come up through the floor) are not ideally located with where our TVs are, I decided that I would wire the house myself so that the U-verse installer can just connect in to what I have already done. I have not yet scheduled our AT&T U-verse install so I’m not entirely sure that this will go as smoothly as I hope but from what I have learned from others, it seems like a sound plan. After much research on the great Interwebs and long discussions with my co-workers, I came up with a plan. I decided to create a “Network Wiring Closet” in a central location in the basement and run two wires of Cat 5e to each of five different rooms in the house.

The first step was to create a “Network Wiring Closet” in the basement. Okay, so in our case, we don’t have a “closet” to put the network equipment in. It is more like a board bolted to the wall with a shelf on it. The first picture above is what it looked like on Jan. 31st, when I first put it together. There is an 8-port Linksys gigabit switch to act as the network traffic manager for house. Additionally, I scavenged a 24-port Panduit patch panel from the trash. Apparently, when corporations move network equipment, it is more cost effective to cut the existing network cables from the patch panels and wire to a new one than it is to pay someone to unwire and rewire all of the patch panel jacks. Because, I will only be running at most 10 cables, I can use the jacks from the patch panel for both ends of each run. The patch panel will allow me to switch out equipment in the future without having to disturb the existing connections to each room.

Last weekend, I connected the first room to this new network. In our home office, I cut a hole in the wall and ran the Cat 5e down into the basement and over to the switch. The second picture is an image of jacks after they have been wired and tested. Cutting that first hole was really scary. Up until that point, any mistake that I made could be hidden or ignored. But cutting a hole that big in the wall can’t be easily covered up if things don’t go right. Fortunately, everything went well and the third picture is the completed jacks in perfect working order.

The final picture shows the “Network Wiring Closet” as it currently stands. I added a shelf for extra network equipment. I assume that the AT&T U-verse router will reside there. You can see that two network cables come into the back of the patch panel and then are routed into the switch. I currently have an extra Linksys router sitting on the shelf. It is set up as a wireless access point. It is my intention to move that to the other end of the house once those rooms are wired to extend the wireless coverage throughout the house.

So far, everything has gone pretty much according to plan. Of the four remaining rooms to be wired, only two are necessary before I call AT&T. This definitely has been a learning experience. As a software guy, I now have a deeper appreciation and understanding into how the network really works. Stay tuned for more updates as additions are made.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The Dramagoons would like to wish all of our friends and family a Happy Thanksgiving. We are thankful for many things in our lives. We have wonderful hobbies like theatre, dance, choir, and letterboxing. We are thankful for excellent schools with great academic environments and superb instrumental band programs. We appreciate our friends and family for all of the wonderful things that they do for and with us. We are thankful to have been part of our new church family for an entire year now. And, as weird as this sounds, we are thankful for our jobs so that we can afford to participate in the other things for which we are thankful.

We sincerely hope that the list of things for which you are thankful is as full as ours.

Oh… and enjoy the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie today. It’s a tradition and you can’t go against tradition.

Happy Birthday, Erin

January 30, 2009

My darling little girl is growing up. At 1:13 PM, this afternoon, Erin turns 10 years old. Happy Birthday, Erin!!! She is becoming a wonderful young lady and her Mom and I are extremely proud of her. Erin will kick-off the birthday celebration weekend with a family party tonight at home. Tomorrow, after a wonderful breakfast of sourdough pancakes and bacon (for the second week in a row), Erin will have another party with several of her girl classmates from school.

On a side note, we closed on our house exactly one year before Erin was born. Therefore, we have now been in our house 11 years today. Boy, how time flies. Maybe it is time to replace the wagon wheel light fixture in the dining room. Nah!

Surprising Digital TV Reception

January 19, 2009

Back in September, I posted about my experiences with helping my mother-in-law get her TV ready for the switch to over-the-air digital TV. At that time, I knew it wouldn’t be my last encounter with this technology. All of the televisions in our house are connected to the Dish Network except one. We have a TV in the utility room in the basement. It is an old 13 inch with rabbit ears and dials on the TV to change the channel and adjust the volume (no remote). The only time it gets used is when I ride my exercise bike in morning before work. I watch the Channel 12 news while I ride. Basically, it gets turned on every day for about 45 minutes at the same volume and same channel. In mid-February, because of the nationwide switch to DTV, it will cease to work.

Back in December, I applied for and received a $40 coupon from the government for a converter box. On Saturday, I went to Best Buy and picked an Insignia Digital Converter Box and an RCA Digital Antenna. I have to say that I was more than skeptical that this would work given how far we live from the major Milwaukee metro televisions stations and the fact that the TV is located in the basement. I pulled these items out of their boxes and installed them without reading any of the manuals (I think that is a technique I learned growing up). I hung the antenna from a nail in the floor joists of the floor above. I turned on the converter box and the TV and everything worked far beyond my expectations.

That television now receives 24 different channels including the eight MPTV Channel 36 variations. All of the channels come in very strong. On top of that, the converter box comes with a remote that controls channel selection and volume. Granted, I still have to turn the television on and off by hand, but now I am not confined to watching the same thing every morning and I can even change things up in the middle of my workout. I’m sure that seems like a small thing to many people but, to me, that is a huge step forward.

Final Trip Report

July 24, 2008

We’re home… Ahhhhhh!!!

The Dramagoons are on a Hiatus

June 30, 2008

Yesterday we finished up Little Women at Waukesha Civic Theatre. We went out with a bang. We had our only sold-out show of the run on Sunday. It was a really good show too. When you have that many people in the audience, they seem to respond so much better to the show. After the show, we struck the set, costumes, and props.

Either A.J., Erin, or I have been a show or rehearsal since the beginning of March. A.J. rehearsed and performed in Over The Tavern during March, April, and May and fit a band concert in the middle of that. Erin had her spring concert for Milwaukee Children’s Choir in May and the Dance Tracks dance recital in June. Both A.J. and Erin also rehearsed and sang a song at the WCT Preview Event. Personally, I rehearsed and performed in Shadowlands during March, April, and May. I rehearsed and performed in Little Women during April, May, and June. And I rehearsed and performed a scene for the WCT Preview Event.

As of today, the Dramagoons are on a hiatus. We have no band, choir, dance, or theatre-related activities planned for the near future. We are going back to being regular family for the summer.

Rain Storms in Southeastern Wisconsin

June 8, 2008

On Saturday night, we had tremendous rain storms here in southeastern Wisconsin. One of the local communities reported 6.5 inches the period between 4pm and 9pm. Our household did not fair too badly but it wasn’t great either. I had, unfortunately, not taken the time to clean the gutters of the spinners that had fallen in the last couple of weeks. So when the hard rain came, the water quickly started pouring over the gutters. By the time I got the gutters cleaned and the water flowing out into the yard the sump pump was not able to keep up with the flow coming in.

For two hours, Kristi and I had to bail the sump pump into buckets and pour the buckets into the deep sink to help it along. We had some water seep into the basement in several places which resulted in a few puddles but no major damages. Today we went to look at the Fox River in Waukesha near the theatre. As you can see by the pictures, the river is up quite a bit. They actually closed off one of the bridges over the river. Many of the benches near the river are under water and those large bears are usually on the shoreline.