My New Home Network

I’ve been using the same network I put together from cast-offs over 10 years ago when we moved into the village and we figured it was about time to bring it into the 21st century.

Armed with a budget of £300 I went off onto the web in search of new kit – and I’m very pleased with the end product… The system includes Gigabit wired networking, 80211n multi-point wireless and load balancing/fall-over protection in case my primary service provision fails and to share out the load a little when the grandkids are over hogging bandwidth. I’ll explain this….

Vigor 2800vgBut first, the starting point… when we moved over here into the countryside 11 years ago I was on a budget, having spent a bomb kitting out my home office, I simply bought bulk networking cable, a bunch of connectors and I was very lucky to get some second hand ADSL router kit from friends. One of those routers is the Draytek Vigor 2800vg which of course is too old to handle modern high speed 802.11n wireless but which has MORE than done it’s tour of duty over the years and is still an excellent and supported router.

I’ve had access to all manner of ADSL modems and most of them by comparison to the Drayteks seem “amateur”.  I ended up with 3 of these and a Netgear unit giving 4 access points around the house – I also had Orange Wireless but that was so bad I turned it off. The Drayteks have all SORTS of useful tools that other kit simply doesn’t have – like decent bandwidth monitoring facilities, VPN, interchangeable aerials (I had WAY oversize aerials on my main unit to get more range).

Why so many routers/access points? Well, our house is a cottage and it’s built out of lots of VERY thick stone – WIFI just does not go through this stuff so you might have a great signal in the living room – walk around the corner to the kitchen and it’s gone. Also as we’re on one floor the distance from the kitchen to my office is quite large.  So one Draytek router acted as the ADSL router and access point (wired and wireless), the others as simply switches/WIFI access points. I also had a dedicated 16-port switch as I have lots of kit to plug into when I’m doing a bit of R&D. The two main machines and my NAS drive (network addressable storage – i.e. a black box with 2 disks in it) are all connected together by wire as WIFI is too slow for some operations – like moving massive files back and forth.

We have Internet access via the organisation I work with – and we also have Orange Broadband. Why the latter?

Orange rubbish access pointWell, I would not use Orange by choice but as we had a house phone line and Maureen has an Orange phone, they gave us broadband for a fiver a month – can’t really say no to that especially as it gives her free calls to Orange mobiles (the kids). Both broadband setups are limited by the BT cables here in the village and give around 6.5Mb/s download and around 500Kb/s upload. The Orange router is that big grey thing on the left and it’s useless, not reliable at all but I recently found that by sticking a timer on it so it resets overnight – it becomes reliable. Not much use however without some kind of automatic fall-over if it’s in use at the time (backups etc). We were going to upgrade this until I saw the reviews of it’s replacement on Amazon – voice after voice slagging off Orange for supplying the new unit – so – stick with the devil you know.

I’d been using a software switch on our computers to select between the two networks (main network and Orange backup) to try to do some kind of load balancing -  but of course that doesn’t work on mobiles which don’t support the software etc. and it’s manual and  “fiddly” so I included provider switching in my goals for the upgrade:

  • Faster wireless
  • Faster wired connection
  • Better coverage
  • Some kind of automatic switching/backup/fall-over

We have Apple TV and my videos and music etc. are stored on the NAS unit  so speed of connectivity is important – a request from the TV has to go off to Maureen’s computer – which gets the video from the NAS box and pipes it back to her computer and on to the Apple TV… it doesn’t take many bottlenecks to mess that up.

Well, I ordered the replacement gear and the first stuff that turned up was the cable (of interest I used CABLING4LESS – they seem pretty good and delivery was quick) – I chose ready-made lengths of CAT5-e (why not CAT6? From what I can read it’s for perfectionists and the price difference is high – I also had some decent cables which were gigabit-certified and wanted to use those).

Ok, back up a second – what’s the difference between the cables? If you look at your average network lead, there are 8 connections at each end. Cat-5 only uses 4 of them – whereas Gigabit networks need all 8.  So to have a Gigabit network your modem, switches and cabling all need to be updated to CAT5-e or better. But the cable is cheap -  I think I spent £30 in all.

I bought a range of colours of Cat5-e cable and started checking to see what needed replacing. The first shocker came when looking on the roof at some of the original cables put in place a decade ago – totally SHOT. I’ve never seen cable disintegrate so quickly on touch! Amazing what several years of even British sunlight can do.

So it quickly became a gutting operation – all but one grey lead (which miraculously is in perfect condition 11 years on AND is certified for Gigabit operation – as it spans the building I was quite relieved not to have to throw that one away).

Draytek Vigor 2830nNext stop the main ADSL router. I did my homework and I’m fairly confident I picked the best of the lot – the new Draytek 2830n. This really is a winner -  with dual inputs (3 if you include the ability to use a 3G dongle as a backup -  but we’ve no 3g in the village so that’s redundant), 4 Gigabit ports, multiple LANS, multiple VPNs… load balancing.. name it and it’s got it – well under £200 from Amazon. Took around half an hour to get that running with the existing kit – which includes a 16-output switch in my office for the various gadgets.

First things first – the 802.11n higher speed WIFI claims better speed and better range and I noticed a marginal improvement in range almost tmpEA80immediately. That’s at ONE end of the building. I then fitted a TP-LINK TL-SG1016D 16-port Gigabit switch to replace the old switch to give me some more connections – one of which attachés to the lead which goes right across the building to TP-Link 5 port unmanaged switchanother, smaller new unit, the TL-SG1005D 5-port Gigabit switch – which then feeds Maureen’s computer, the Apple TV and a new TP-Link 150Mbps Wireless N Access point at the far end.Tp-Link 802.11n WIFI access point The large switch indicates what speed the connection is running (10/100 or gigabit) with green indicators which is great.

Finally I had to wire the Orange ADSL unit all the way back to the Draytek second input and make sure the Draytek was aware of the incoming Orange network. Interestingly I had a problem in that I wanted to keep the same DNS (domain name lookup) – and the only one I could find at first was OPENDNS -  but they charge if you have more than one incoming IP address – I resolved the problem eventually by forcing the network to use GOOGLE’s DNS servers (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) and up to now they are working a treat.

For Wireless I gave both units the same name – ensuring they were using completely different wireless frequencies which are ALSO distanced from the frequencies used by neighbours.

The result  – even the iPad now works seamlessly anywhere in or around the building. The overall range is WAY better – but now needing only 2 wireless units and not 5.

Apple TV works smoothly – and having set up the Draytek to work from the main ADSL line, falling over to Orange (tested by simply pulling the broadband line out – operation continues more or less seamlessly, the only change being the external address changes of course) it’s all working a treat, no failures, drop-outs etc. – and all the kit is green – keeping power usage to optimum levels (this if often overlooked – the cost of running this stuff mounts up as it’s on 24-7).

I’m currently running scheduled backups to the NAS using GOODSYNC – and cloud backups using bandwidth-restricted LIVEDRIVE (that’s a long story) with unlimited backup, consuming around 100Kb/s of my 500Kb/s upload bandwidth to keep 2 computers constantly backed up in the cloud – but because of the dual-WAN setup I’m managing to split that – one machine backs up to my main ADSL, the other backs up to the Orange ADSL – all works a treat…  and hence leaving plenty of upload bandwidth for Skype on either (though one could always make use of more precious upload bandwidth). More detail as time permits – if you Google these products – all I can say is they work for me…. older kit will be on Ebay presently…

WELCOME– some thoughts on a Fan-gate APP for Facebook

I’ve been scouring for APPS for WordPress pages to do what I want – that is, give me a “fan-gate” and not ruin it with advertising – and let me use multiple apps per page.

Well, there are APPS out there that do most of it but not exactly what I was after – so I wrote my own.

But first – some explanations:

What’s a Facebook profile?

That’s the bit you get for free when you signed up with Facebook. Let’s ignore the Facebook TIMELINE which was supposed to appear some time ago – looks like litigation’s putting the kybosh on that for now. Mine’s all set up to go – but no-one can see it!! But I digress…

http://www.facebook.com/petescargill

 

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You’ll notice the above already looks a bit personalised – and it is – how did I managed to get multiple images and text on the left? I didn’t. 

Some time ago, Facebook changed the rules to allow images as wide as 180px by something like 520px high as your profile picture. What you see above is simply one large image. Now you have to be careful as your little avatar image has to come from that so you’ll see in my case I’ve made sure that the top part of that image is me.

The avatar (your little image you see in your posts) is then just the top bit of the image I’ve used on the left.

There are 3 columns in all Facebook pages – the left you have some control over as you can see, in your profile you’ve little control over the middle column other than it’s full of your messages on your WALL – and of course you can show your photos etc.  the right side is reserved for Facebook ads which are often terminally annoying.

What’s a Facebook PAGE?

Isn’t that my profile?  No! A profile is simply your personal profile, it’s very hard to make that into anything else – and you can’t easily add to it or personalise it.  But anyone can create a Facebook PAGE and this is more suited to for example businesses of if you are a personality – or you have a cause etc.

Given that you create a PAGE – which looks pretty much like a profile at first… you can start to customise it. One of my pages is called:

http://www.facebook.com/cavehome

From now on I’ll not show the THIRD column as you’ve no control over it…

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Notice that once again I’ve used a large image on the left – and you’ll see the little avatar there on the posts… notice also that I’ve uploaded several normal size images up there but selected the one larger one to be the profile image. So, on your WALL you not only control the LEFT column but you can control the imagery at the TOP as well. Nice.

But there is SO much more. in a PAGE it is not necessarily the WALL that is the first thing people see – you can easily go in and tell the page to start up with a DIFFERENT TAB (the TABS are the items you see on the left above – wall, info, photos etc.

Notice there is a TAB above called WELCOME.

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As they say in the movies “I made that” – it’s an APP written in a language called PHP with a little icon I designed –WD for Willow Design… I designed the App way back in September but I’ve updated the blog since then.

This APP is designed to let  me whatever content I want in the MIDDLE section of your page – and importantly to show different content to some who LIKES me to someone who has yet to press that LIKE button. 

Why bother? Well once someone LIKES you their Facebook pages show whatever you have to say on your WALL – which might be about you, your company, it might be something you have to offer or some community event.  Very important.

Ok, so let’s see the page from the perspective of someone who is new to this page.. Remember I’ve set my page to START UP with the WELCOME App, not the WALL.

 

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As you can see you don’t get much until you press the LIKE button. That centre column is simply an image I put together – and if you want to make something similar…. get Photoshop or the free GIMP package – and PowerPoint and a few other tools and start pasting images and text together – it’s easy enough with a little practice.

So – if someone presses the LIKE button – if they are already logged into their FACEBOOK account, job’s done – if not, they’re asked to log in – if they’re not a member of Facebook they’re asked to sign up – if not.. well, is there anyone left who ISN’T part of Facebook?

Ok, so here, more or less is the LIKED version

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What you’re looking at above is not some HTML but a complete embedded website in Facebook. The APP lets me point to another website and I made one up specially to fit into the 520px wide limitation of Facebook and with short pages.  By updating that website – I end up updating Facebook.

So how does the APP do that? Well, what you don’t see above is the ADMIN button which I have when I’m logged into my Facebook account – and on my own pages (I have several). Here’s the ADMIN view.

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Several things going on here. I’ve designed the APP to show 2 windows – one for people who LIKE and one for people who DON’T yet like my page. In the second (lower one) I’ve put in some simple HTML web page code to show an image – in the FIRST one – ignore the text, look at the URL box – I’ve simply pointed to a specially made website – which is special only in that it does not have a fancy header – and it is limited to 520px wide. That’s it. The user sees either the top or bottom version depending on whether they’ve clicked the LIKE button or not.

I’m not ready to roll this APP out yet, I want to get some more security into it and make sure it’ll scaled out for general use – also I want to add a few more features to it and some help. But as you can see – it works.

Below are some more LIKED and YET-TO BE LIKED pages I’ve put together – hope they give you some ideas. Again these are admin views hence the “edit” options but are otherwise pretty much what the end user sees.

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The way I’ve written the APP I can make several available so that for example one could have a Welcome APP, then a payment APP – you can do the lot with one APP if you have a special website to point to – but then not everyone has that.

Here’s an example where  I’ve renamed the tab and two versions of the APP are in use on a page with different icons.. see below the PHOTOs built-in APP

 

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If you’re interested in any of this – get in touch… details are on the sites for which I’ve included addresses!

 

Peter Scargill – Willow Design – www.willowdesign.info  – www.scargill.net