Technology

To review some of the technology that I have employed within my home, choose the area of interest below:

Please note that our technology configurations change much faster than I can post changes to this website. Hopefully, you get the idea of what is going on even if some of the information is a bit dated.








Video/Media/Entertainment Setup (Updated 4/2/16)

We have a somewhat extensive media/entertainment wherewithall in our home. My goal is to have the very latest capabilities present, and to integrate (tie together for media interchange) as much as possible. My quality objective is not to attain an audiophile's or a videophile's pursuit of perfections, but to attain a degree of excellence just below that level, using mostly off-the-shelf components, and packaged systems when possible.

Here are some of our systems:

To get and idea of what how our components work together, below is a schematic of our family room entertainment center. All of the components in the center (TV, home theater system, XBOX One, Mac Mini) are connected to the Internet through the home LAN, and all can independently download and play media from all of the web-based sources (e.g., iTunes, Google, Amazon, NetFlix, RedBox, YouTube, and so on). We can also use the Mac Mini to access any entertainment or information source on the Internet.

Entertainment Center

Our primary television source is Comcast Xfinity X2, Premium tier. This is a cloud-based system wherein the guide and controls are on Comcast’s “cloud”. The DVR (Digital Video Recorder) recordings are recorded on the cloud, as well, storing over 100 hours of 1060p high-def TV, and which is controlled via a very powerful guide system. The system includes the multi-room master DVR, and we have three very small slave DVRs in our bedroom, my office, and the kitchen. We also have an old digital-analog converter in the basement for an old analog TV we have there use while exercising. The TVs (all the master and slave DVRs) use the same Xfinity XR11 control unit. It features voice control and is an excellect remote control. Fast forward, start, stop, and the guide are all on the cloud, and are very fast - faster than when we had a hard drive based system. The Xfinity X2 system is a huge improvement over the prior Comcast system. We also can use the XBOX One as our guide and as a DVR, and it can hold another 70 or more hours of recorded HDTV. We can use the XBOX to control the TV using just our voice (e.g., saying “XBOX CBS” will change the channel from our current channel to the HD CBS channel). We can also use the Xfinity iPhone app to control the TV using just our voice. We can watch anything anywhere using our iPhones or iPads logging into our Xfinity account. Our subscription includes all channels Comcast offers, except some foreign language packages, and it includes their On-Demand services - which are extensive. We see no need to use any other service to obtain video entertainment, even though we can easily access those other services.





Technical Infrastructure (Updated 4/1/2016)

I love technology. Below is my home's LAN with some of the systems I have on the house LAN. It includes Arris TM722G Docsys 3.0 cable modem (which we own, not rent) running on Comcast at their "Blast!" speed of 150 Mbps (download), and 16 Mbps (upload), and a NetGear WNDR4500v3 N900 wireless gigabit router with four gigabit ports, and gigabit WAN port. This was recently upgraded from a Cisco (LinkSys) WRT310N router. The router is connected to an 8-port gigabit switch and there are two other 8-port switches and a 5-port and a 4-port.

Broadband, WiFi, and G4/LTE Speed

Comcast regularly upgrades their Internet speeds. As of the update date (above) here are some speeds we are achieving, as tested by SpeakEasy.net and by SpeedTest.net:

Broadbandon Dell XPS 8700 Comcast Internet wired
  Ping:12 ms
  Download:136.41 mbps   (Amazing!)
  Upload:12.8 mbps







Wi-Fi (in-home)tested on iPad
  Ping:24 ms
  Download:14.29 mbps
  Upload:12.18 mbps







Wi-Fi (in-home)tested on iPhone 6
  Ping:15 ms
  Download:34.26 mbps
  Upload:12.58 mbps







AT&T 4G Cellulartested on iPhone 6
  Ping:67 ms
  Download:5.03 mbps
  Upload:0.59 mbps







AT&T G4/LTE to Wi-Fion iPad via GoPhone Mobile HotSpot
  Ping:55 ms
  Download:4.7 mbps
  Upload:4.9 mbps







The broadband speeds are pretty consistent day-to-day and within the day on our household network. (Note: I have tested the Broadband Internet speeds on both a Mac and a PC, with MS Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome browsers. The speeds are pretty similar across all.) Comcast provided a speed doubling and then, more recently, another fifty percent speed increase for our subscription tier at no additional coast. It happened seamlessly and brought our tier's download capability to 150 mbps, which is very high capacity. I have tested the broadband Internet speed quite a few times and our speed is consistent. The reported speeds above for Wi-Fi and G4/LTE were one-time tests. Please also note that Comcast automatically provides a “burst mode” when downloading some content that effectively doubles the speeds reported above. It kicks in when downloading a software package or a video, things of large size.

{Note: See updates below for more recent configurations.} The systems run Windows 10 Professional (2 tower/mini-tower computers and 1 netbook), WinXP (as an alternative boot), Mac OS X 10 Snow Leopard and Leopard (on two Mac Mini’s), and Suse Linux 10.0/Win XP Pro (as a and alternative dual boot). There are also currently (as of 2/5/2013) two Apple iPads (2015 versions), and 2 iPhone 6’s, one iPhone 3G (used as an iPod), a bunch of iPods, Karen's work laptop, a Blackberry Slate, and some other stuff. I’ve recently donated three computers running Windows 7 or 8.1 and a printer to a charity that redistributes them, and I threw out an older Pentium PC.

There are really three LANs in the house:

All systems can work together seamlessly. I also have an X10 network for security and video surveillance (more “SecuritySystems”, below). I have two printers/scanners/copiers: an HP OficeJet Pro 8610 Wireless All-In-One, and an HP PhotoSmart 6520 Wireless All-In-One (4800 dpi, 12 ppm black/color), and an HP Photosmart A516 for printing photos. Each is accessable from any of our computers wirelessly, as well as our iPads and iPhones.

Update - 05/07/2015: Recently I switched the computers used as my office PC and the household servers, and reconfigured each. I also removed the security-dedicated computer and the server has now taken up that function as well. I had a power supply issue with my office system and reconfigured the server for its purpose, and acquired a new power supply and put the former office computer to use as the server. Sound complicated? A little. I also upgraded my “new” office PC with a half-terabyte SSD (Solid State Drive), which is a NAND technology (memory) with a SATA drive interface. If that is too technical, what it means is that my new “C”-drive is faster and has no moving parts, unlike a disk drive. The SSD also provides the benefit of a 2 million hour MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure), which approximates to more than 200 years. I cloned and/or repurposed other drives so that my office computer looks just like it did before the switch, and so does the server, but with somewhat different configurations under the hood. I had to re-install absolutely no software on either machine.





Update - 05/20/2015: Major upgrade!

Earlier this month (see above update), I resolved issues with my Office and Server systems and reversed their roles and brought them back online. They were machines of vintage 2006 and have served me very well through the past nine years. They were based on Intel technology of that time: 945GL chipsets, either dual-thread or early dual-core cpu’s, DDR2 memory at 666MHz or 800MHz FSB speeds, and so on. I decided on a major new upgrade. Here goes...

I purchased a new Dell XPS 8700 system for use as my office system. This system is configured as follows:

  • Processor: Intel Core I7 (4th Generation)
  • I7-4790 operating at up to 4.0 Gigahertz
    4 Cores, dual threads each
    8 MB Cache
    up to 4.00 GHz
  • Memory: 16 GB of 1600MHz DDR3L, quad-channel memory
  • 4 sockets of 4 GB, DDR3 - 1600MHz cards
    Max of 32 GB supported
  • Storage:
    • Solid State Drive: (which I acquired separately)
    • 0.5 TB capacity (operating as “C:” drive for OS
      SATA 3.0
    • Hard Disk Drives:
    • 1.0 TB capacity, 7200 rpm SATA 3.0 drive (operating as “D:” drive for local backup)
      2.0 TB capacity, 7200 rpm SATA 3.0 drive (operating as “E:” drive for data, documents, photos, audio, etc.)
  • Media: DVD +RW
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce GTX 745 w/4GB DDR3
  • HDMI, VGA, DVI-D, and Display Port (plus additional HDMI & VGA on Mainboard)
    PCI Express x16 single-width, full-length card
  • Communications: Wired, Wireless, and BlueTooth
  • Wired: RJ-45 port - 10/100/1000 Mbps integrated network
    Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
    DW 1704 80211bgn
    BT4.0 2.4GHz
  • Audio: Integrated hi-def 7.1 channel audio (REALTEK ALC3861) w/WAVE MAXXAudio 4.0
  • Ports:
    • Back Panel:
    • two USB 2.0
      four USB 3.0
      four audio output/headphone
      one audio input
      one microphone
      two HDMI video
      two VGA video
      one dual-link DVI-D
    • Front Panel:
    • two USB 3.0
    • Top Panel:
    • one USB 2.0
      one 2.0 w/PowerShare
      one audio output/headphone
      one microphone
  • Media-card Reader: 19-in-1 slot reader for flash, sticks, XC, SD, and others
  • 460 Watt Power Supply

The system comes with Windows 8.1 preinstalled, but I installed the SSD and cloned the hard drive to the SSD. I updated to Windows 10 Pro shortly after I set the system up and converted from the old computer. I have installed, as new or reinstalls, a wide variety of software, of which a little had to be re-acquired. I now use Microsoft Office 2014 64-bit as my office software, and I have running now much of the software I previously had on my old system, including AVG anti-virus, SISoftware Sandra system reporting software, HomeSite 5 - used to develop this site, WISE FTP, Paint Shop Pro 6.0, MS Visio 2007, MS Project, DeskPDF, iTunes/QuickTime, HP Solutions Center, Quicken 2015, TurboTax 2013 & 2014, Digital Media Converter, NightOwl, and a lot of other software. It was a big job to change computers... fortunately at a “completed” state.

The new system is fast. It takes just a few seconds to boot up, and some processes that used to have a noticable delay starting up and are now extremely fast. It was a challenge to get everything operating as just as I wanted with all the software that I wanted, but I managed with one exception: FreeCell. It somehow only spoke spanish after the conversion. I dropped it and added the new Microsoft Solitaire, Puzzles, Minesweeper, and Mahjong from their store.

I also purchased a new Acer Aspire XC-605 UB1F to replace Karen’s old Gateway computer. It is a small desktop profile (10.6"-H x 3.9"-W x 14.6"-D), and has the following configuration:

  • Processor: Intel Core I3 (4th Generation)
  • I3-4160 operating at up to 3.6 Gigahertz
    2 Cores
    2 MB Cache
    up to 3.60 GHz
  • Memory: 6 GB of 1600MHz DDR3L, dual-channel memory
  • 2 sockets of 4 GB & 2 GB, DDR3 - 1600MHz cards
    Max of 16 GB supported
  • Storage: 1.0 TB capacity, 7200 rpm SATA 3.0 drive
  • Media: DVD +RW
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4400 on mainboard, with HDMI and VGA ports
  • Communications: Wired, Wireless, and BlueTooth
  • Wired: RJ-45 port - 10/100/1000 Mbps integrated network
    Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
    DW 1704 80211bgn
    BT4.0 2.4GHz
  • Audio: Integrated hi-def 7.1 channel audio (REALTEK 622)
  • Ports:
    • Back Panel:
    • four USB 2.0
      two audio output/headphone
      one HDMI video
      one VGA video
      one dual-link DVI-D
    • Front Panel:
    • two USB 3.0
  • Media-card Reader: 19-in-1 slot reader for flash, sticks, XC, SD, and others
  • 240 Watt Power Supply

Thomas Household LAN

I use a 64GB Apple iPhone 6 away from home and you already know its many features. Karen uses an Apple iPhone 6 to keep up with her very numerous work communications. She had upgraded from a Samsung Slate running Windows Phone to an iPhone 5, and now to the iPhone 6. We each have a netbook, mine being a Toshiba NB305 and Karen's being an HP Mini 110. My runs Windows 10 Pro and has Microsoft Office as well as a full load of software. We use the netbooks primarily for work purposes (e.g., my consulting work). When I travel for pleasure, I generally don't take the netbook, just the iPhone.

I have an Apple iPod Video (5th Gen) and it syncs with my Mac Mini iTunes, iPhoto, etc. I used to use the iPod primarily in my teaching. In the classroom I used RCA jacks to connect the iPod to the in-wall audio/video connectors and that connects to the built-in overhead projector. Now I simply use the iPhone for slides and video clips and the iPad for my teaching notes (it is easier to read as I lecture). The slides and my notes originate as PowerPoint slides. I generally create and manage the PowerPoints on my Gateway, then on the Mac I drop them via our home network into Keynote, from which then sync to the iPhone and iPad. It is very straight forward. I create videos or clip them from sources largely the same way. I have roughly 2,800 slides, 2,000 photos, 14 hourse of video, and several thousand songs on the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Karen has an iPod shuffle (the very small one) and she uses it during workouts. She also has an iPod video nano.

I use my iPad to read books and in my opinion it is a very good way to read a novel. We have put some photos and music on it, and we can use it to look at our email. We are always connected at home through our wireless network and also whenever we travel or go out, there is likely wireless access. We saw no need to create a new 3G/4G account for access otherwise.

I have X10 (a wireless protocol) cameras and motion sensor lights around the house, and we have a complete security system on all the doors and windows, as well as indoor sensors. The security system was built into the house as it was built, but I have added the motion sensor lighting and cameras. I did it for the fun of doing it, not so much because of security concerns. We have a NightOwl four camera security system that is motion driven, has night vision, is high-def, and records everything it sees. There are a load of other features, but this is not a place to discuss them.

Karen has a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connections to her work locations. The VPN permits her to be on the office's internal LAN, but work from home.

I am a tech dweeb... I love the stuff. I write software today, even though it is not a part of my job anymore. I did this website just for fun, and I have a two versions of it using two different web standards. I built the network in my home that has at least five computers networked. I built several computers, including my former Red Hat Linux server (now replaced with Suse on a newer machine that I built). I am continuously tinkering with things like the home security system, the entertainment systems, and most especially, our computers and their software. I do it for the sheer pleasure I get from the doing.





Security Systems (updated late 2013)

I know this is going to make you think I am paranoid or something, but I have set up a fairly extensive set of security systems in and around our home. Think of them as toys and/or conveniences, not security, because their purpose is simply an excuse for me to delve into playing with technology. A by-product may be enhanced security, but the objective is to “play” with the technology. Okay? Clear? Not nuts, just curious.

I have, of course, built-in a window/door security system provided by the builder, complete with panic alarm, etc. To supplement that, I put titanium-reinforced bars inside the basement windows, and reinforced the basement door and added an additional deadbolt. The frame is aluminum-bar reinforced, as well. The front door has a steel plate layer, and is pretty much impenetrable. There are motion detection-driven floodlights in front and all around the rear of the house. This is all standard stuff, nothing special so far.

Now the fun begins. I use X10 protocol equipment throughout the house and control it from the “ChuckSecurity” computer that I built. The software that operated the equipment is called ActiveHome Pro, and it gives me pretty good control of almost any device or service throughout the house. It also interfaces with the video cameras I have set up. See below:

ActiveHome Pro example

(Updated 2/29/2014). I have recently put in a Night Owl Video Surveillance system with four high-def cameras, a DVR and Internet access. The cameras watch all external access to the house, as well as internal access from each door. Motion is detected and is recorded from just before the motion to a little after it ceases. This works in daytime and through infrared, at night, and the video is remarkably clear and definitive. I can monitor activity from any of our computers, smart phones, or iPads, at home or away. The recorded clips are also sent to my offsite ISP site. I can also have the motion detector email me snaps of activity upon motion. An example of the images I see on any of my computers are these of my back deck at the back door entrance (note that there is a blacked out space on my neighbor’s property for privacy reasons) and of my driveway and front walkway:

Security Cam - Back Deck Front Walk

Where will this all end? That is what Karen asks, and the answer is probably “the trash”. I told you that I only do this for fun.





Phone System (updated 11/20/2014)

I recently replaced our old 4-phone Panasonic cordless phone system with a new Panasonic Link-to-Cell Convergence solution, model KX-TG7875, which has six cordless phones. This system automatically connects to Karen and my iPhones when we come in the house with them, so that the entire phone system seamlessly converges. That means that if her iPhone or my iPhone receives a call while we are home, we can answer with any of the six cordless handsets, and we can also place calls from the “landline” (which is a VoIP feature on the Comcast package we have), or either of the iPhones. The phone system’s phonebook is a combination of its own entries plus both of the iPhone entries, with a potential of 3,000 entries.

If course, it has all the features you would expect, including: answering machine, call blocking, voice caller-id, intercom, and so on. It also features call sharing, transferring calls among devices, clarity booster button, voice equalizer, handset noise reduction, and so on. A very useful feature is that in the event of a power failure, any handset in the base station will use its batteries to keep the system functioning. The batteries last quite a while, but we also have six phones which we could use in a longer outage (should we ever have one). And since the Comcast VoIP line also has its own battery backup, we don't lose it or, of course, the cell phone signals.




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