Archive for March, 2009

A cheap and easy fix to HDHomeRun network issues

Monday, March 30th, 2009

I’ve loved my HDHomeRun for as long as the product has been on the market, but never really used it heavily until I switched to Media Center about a year ago. Well ever since, from time to time I’ve experienced network issues that have caused less than perfect picture quality — drop outs, blocking, breakups etc. I’ve spent countless hours troubleshooting this and most of the time it ended up being the driver for my Intel 82566DC-2 network adapter. At one point I even spent some money to replace my switch since the NIC refused to auto-negotiate to 100/full with the 16 port Netgear switch I was using. Well for whatever reason the issues came back over the weekend and I finally threw in the towel and did what I should’ve done a long time a go.

The simple solution
I went down to CompUSA — yes they still have them in Tampa — and picked up a $14 NIC. I threw it into a spare PCI slot (you can use a USB NIC if you want) and plugged the HDHR directly into it. The cool thing is that I didn’t even need a crossover cable, in fact all I had to do was rerun the HDHR setup utility to rediscover the location of the device. And thanks to the beauty of APIPA — you know that 169.254.x.x address — I didn’t even have to set an IP on the NIC or configure an IP for the HDHR. 

Now my picture quality is back to the perfect and my only regret is that I didn’t just break down and do this earlier. So if you are having problems with your HDHomeRun, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw an extra NIC in your PC and at the very least isolate the problem.

Bonjour+UPnP = really, really bad

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Any good network person will tell you, turn off UPnP on your router! But in many cases it comes on by default, which means that people don’t know that it is on. But what’s worse is that, for most, UPnP is really useful because it will allow applications like Skype and the Xbox Live to open up ports on your home network’s router/firewall without having to understand ports and IP addresses.

Not sure why I’m such a gluten for punishment, but I turned on UPnP recently on my FiOS issued ActionTEC router and noticed all kinds of ports being opened. At first reaction, I disabled it and deleted all the port forwarding rules, but then I started to wonder where they were all coming from. My first thought was that I let someone use my WiFi and their machine opened ’em, but I wanted to be sure so after cleaning up all these weird rules, named things like iC5900, I used this post to figure out how setup WallWatcher on my WHS so the next time it’d happened I’d be collecting Syslog data from my ActionTEC router. My thought was I wanted to make sure I had a log since I had no idea when the ports would be opened, but to my surprise when I preceded to enable UPnP, all the ports were opened almost immediately and the destination was my MacBook Air!

At this point I figured I must have a trojan or something, but then I noticed it was port forwarding to known services I had running on my Mac like VNC, Skype, and SSH. So the next thing I tried was to set firewall on the Air to essential services only — usually only enable it when I take it off my LAN — delete the UPnP created rules, and wait. This time they didn’t come back.

Now the problem is that Bonjour requests that the WAN router open up all the ports that are open on the Mac’s local firewall, which is kinda cool, but not what I want. You see while I want to be able to connect via SSH to my Mac while on my LAN, I don’t want to over the internet — otherwise I could control this by configuring the Mac’s firewall. The easy solution is to just disable UPnP on the router, but I have to say that probably won’t work for many people because they don’t understand how to manually configure their firewall. The other option is to disable Bonjour completely, but then the LAN services won’t work either.

For now I’m just going to go back to manually configureing my router’s port forwarding and turn my Mac firewall on when I take my Mac about.

There is one cool OSX command I learned along the way, like how to tell which applications are communicating on port 22.
sudo lsof -i -P | grep 22

This lsof command is basically a more useful version of netstat on the Mac, which evidently will also tell you which files are open.

Plagiarism or coincidence? You decide

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Just ran across this post today at one of my favorite sites, The Digital Lifesyle, and at first I was thrilled to see somoene appreciate the hard work Warren, Andy, and I put into automatically converting mkv files to dvr-ms. But then after reading through the entire post I noticed that nor my name or Engadget’s was anywhere to be found. Now maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but it seems like too much of a coincidence for this not to be a derivative work. Now I’m accustomed to being ripped off online, but usually it is some hack site and not a reputable place like Ian’s site.


Ian was very responsive to my concerns and has pulled the post — but yet the link still works. Never the less,  the original author has added credit to his post on his blog, but in a way that seems half-hearted to me. But perhaps that is because the intent of his comment was lost in the British to American translation.

There’s nothing I can’t do, just things I haven’t done yet

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

If you know me, you know I love a challenge. One of my oldest friends that I met in college, Dave — aka Utah — actually makes fun of me because anything I choose to pursue I become an expert in. I’ve seen this happen over the years ever since I was 15 years old when my older brother got his first car and I helped him install a new stereo. Within months I was a 12v expert and actually worked as an installer for various companies including Circuit City for almost 5 years.

Eventually stereos got old and my next love was automotive performance. This was far more challenging as I had to learn the ins and out of compression ratios, value overlap, and clearances. But this wasn’t enough either and I eventually became an expert in swapping engines. We’d order used Japanese market (JDM) engines from various importers and install them into our cars. The most popular was the Honda Civic because while the Civic in the US only had 125hp, the JDM engines were over 160hp — this might not sound like much, but it is when you’re talking about a 2500lb car. This actually lead me to start my own business with my good friend Shaun Torrente. We called it Upgrade Performance, but eventually had to do business as NRG (long story). My specialty was wiring because while many could buy (or fabricate) the appropriate mounts, rewiring a modern EFI system isn’t as easy. I’d create custom harnesses that would make it possible to put just about any engine in any car — as long as it was a Honda that is. I’d pride myself on making my custom harnesses look as much like an original as possible. It was challenging at first, but after you’ve done a few, it becomes mandane. A few times I even made custom ECU adapters so that people could use a better computer from a different car. This consisted of a trip to the junk yard to find donor plugs and an old ECU. You’d cut them out and solder all the pins to the correct location for the other car. So for example an Idle Air Control valve might be C4 on a 92 Civic, but on a 97 Integra Type-R it was A5. Sounds easy but there was like 100 pins and not everything had the exact same name.

The way I did this is the same way I’ve attacked every technical challenge in my life, by reading the directions. It seems odd to me that everyone doesn’t have the aptitude to pick up a book and just make things happen. This is actually how I’ve become successful in IT as well. I’ve excelled because no matter what the problem is, I can solve it. In fact I find technical support and formal training boring and in some ways stifling because usually I can figure it out or train myself faster. 

As you can imagine, when  you have as many interests as I do and such a thirst for knowledge, you want to share it. This is how I got involved at Engadget and on the various forums where I try to contribute. But this same helpful nature also has a downside. To some I can come off as a “know-it-all.” The irony is that I just want to help, but through the years I’ve found more gracious ways. I remember when I was kid, I got so sick of being called a know-it-all I actually came up with a come-back — remember those, they were great — in which i would respond “I know a little about just about everything, and I know a lot about a few things, but I’ll never know everything about anything.” Yeah I know, real cool right? But you have to admit it’s better than “I’m rubber you’re glue….”

Anyways, I’m not quite sure why I felt like sharing this today, but if you like it, you may like my other philosphical posts. If not, then you probably didn’t make it to the end anyways.

My favorite new iPhone app, eKeypad Plus

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Although there wasn’t much HD news at EHX this year, I did have some time to stop by and talk to some of my favorite home automation vendors. And at the Elk booth I learned about a really cool new way to control my home.

eKeypad Plus isn’t the best name for a home automation application and the $45 cost and icon might scare you off before you even get started, but it really cool. The application ties into an Elk security system — which is also a damn fine home automation controller — and gives me the type of access I’ve been waiting for. Even my  wife was impressed and it when it comes to iPhone apps, we don’t see eye to eye on most.

The key features I’m pleased with are the ability to check the status of the alarm from anywhere (armed etc), the ability to adjust the thermostat and I love being able to turn lights on and off without getting off the couch.

Overall I don’t have any complaints — although $45 is the most I’ve ever paid for an iPhone app and I’m still not sure it is a good value —  but there are a few tweaks it could have like when you click thermostat it shows the lists of thermostats in the house, even though I only have one. It also be nice if there was a way to view the Elk’s logs so I could go back and look at previous events — evidently on the roadmap for the pro version.

Anyways, if you have an Elk there’s no reason to wait, just go buy it you won’t be sorry. (I should point out that the Elk Ethernet expansion module is required for this to work.)

Legacy Locker — why didn’t I think of that?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

When you have kids you start to think differently. You start to think about life insurance, wills, and a bunch of other sad stuff — which is kinda ironic when you think about how much joy kids can bring. 

Now if I was at least half as smart as my friend Jeremy Toemen, when I had my first child a few years ago I would’ve thought about how I’d deal with all my online posossions. We’ve all heard horror stories about loved ones trying to obtain access things as simple as an email account, but imagine how many online accounts you have. Now try to figure out what is going to happen to all of it when you pass on. I know, what a mess. 

What is cool is that Legacy Locker has a pretty comprehsive solution, which unfortuntely it isn’t live just yet, but don’t let that stop you from signing up so you’ll get notified when it is.