Technical Interlude

During the summer, I was inspired by a friend in England to get back in touch with my inner geek. The result was both surprising and predictable.

Powerline Network

Somewhere along the line I missed out on the news about powerline networks. A powerline network uses your existing home electrical wiring in order to convey network access to, potentially, any electrical outlet in the house. The network connection is hard-wired rather than wireless and thus both more stable and able to support a higher throughput. In theory.

Also in practice, as it turns out. I chose to use a TRENDnet Powerline 500 AV Nano Adapter Kit with Built-In Outlet, TPL-407E2K in order to set up my system. Our house does not have an over-abundance of electrical outlets, so I could not afford to sacrifice any in order to “play” with adding a powerline network.

I installed the principle adapter in our kitchen where our router is located. The other adapter I installed in my office upstairs. Then I hauled out our old Dell computer that was languishing in the basement in order to have something useful to plug into the network. (Everything else in the house runs off the wireless, but that old Dell has no wireless card.) I was delighted to discover that this worked exactly as promised. I appear to now have a wired network running at 100 Mbps.

Installing Linux (again)

With a solid wired network connected to my old Dell, I took the opportunity to bring my Linux skills back into shape. The first step would be to install the latest version of Ubuntu. That old Dell is a 32-bit Pentium with 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. It’s got a nice monitor as well. And it had Ubuntu 13.04 installed on it. So the first step was to do a clean install of Ubuntu 15.04. It was certainly a pleasure to have a wired network connection here in my office thus avoiding the need to set up this computer in the kitchen so that I could plug it directly into the router for the inevitable raft of software updates that follow any new Linux installation.

One of my intentions in re-exploring Linux on this Dell was to see whether it could be used as a potential media storage device on the network. My thinking was that I might follow my friend’s lead and install Freenas and then, potentially, connect to the media via Raspberry Pi devices. (Yes, his setup was very nerdy and very cool.) Alas, this Dell is underpowered for such work. So the Freenas option was quickly ruled out. And that scuppered my Raspberry Pi envy as well. So instead I decided to try to solidify my working knowledge of Linux. And that gave me the opportunity to exploit our local public library’s fine collection of geeky books. I started with Ubuntu Made Easy: A Project-Based Introduction to Linux by Rickford Grand (2012) in order to ease my way in. But what it really aided was pointing me toward Linux Mint, which is an Ubuntu derivative that is allegedly more user friendly, especially for those not afraid to work on the command line.

Ah yes, the command line. As it happens, I’ve never been a real adept. So, back to the library. This time I got out Linux Command Line and Shell Scripting Bible: The Comprehensive, Tutorial Resource by Richard Blum and Christine Bresnahan (2015). Now I felt like I was definitely learning something. I even hauled out my rusty knowledge of GNU Emacs and burnished it. Clearly I was having too much fun.

The end result of all this is less satisfying. Since I don’t use these skills on a daily basis, I find that they very quickly drift away. I did take notes this time, but whether I’ll even be able to comprehend my notes come the next time I get my geek on, who knows?

Rethinking Music Options

As mentioned, part of the motivation for both the powerline network and for re-igniting my love of Linux was to potentially mirror the media setup that my more technically able friend was deploying. Although that wasn’t possible, I did continue thinking about whether or not we ought to transform our music setup in the house.

At the moment we have an excellent stereo (amplifier, cd-player, receiver) purchased back in 2000. That does seem like a long time ago now, but these are solid pieces of kit. Yes, they still run on UK voltage, so I have to use transformer. No big deal. And yes, the receiver is calibrated to UK frequencies which do not match up with North American frequencies. So the receiver is less than wonderful. But really we only ever use the cd-player anyway. We also have two Boston Acoustics radios which have fabulous sound for their size. All of our cds are ripped in iTunes (sigh). And we don’t ever merely purchase digital downloads of music. So, is there a game changer out there that could transform our listening lives?

There might be. I’ve recently been enticed by the heavy promotion of SONOS, at least enough to have a salesman walk me through a demo. Impressive. No doubt. But at the moment I (and more importantly my wife) remain unconvinced. I’ll keep thinking about it.

Posted in technology.