How-To: Filling in a Wi-Fi Dead Spot on a Budget

For the past year I’ve been on the board of our local civic association. I did this to get me out of the house and more engaged in the local community. As a result I’ve become more aware of some of the IT issues that typically confront our neighbors. Beyond dealing with dastardly ISPs, one of the most common problems is poor Wi-Fi coverage throughout a home. When the question came up again just recently, I thought it worth collecting my thoughts on the matter and sharing them here.

Preface: The Wired

This is, for me, a statement of philosophy. Wherever possible I prefer wired, Ethernet connections to devices on my network. Wires are inconvenient to install, but are extremely reliable, and with the exception of intrusion by the occasional hungry rodent, last a very long time. If you want things to work all-the-time, every time, wired is the way to go. Period.

 

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BBC Erroneously Reports "Webcams used to attack Reddit and Twitter recalled"

As you may be aware there have been a few rather high-profile DDOS attacks in recent weeks. They all have one thing in common…they leverage common network attached devices that have been compromised, or at least left unsecure.

Many of these devices have been found to be network attached cameras. Brian Krebs has a great post on the matter. The table of most common devices includes IP cameras from several manufacturers, some printers and consumer routers.

USB vs IP Camera

I take exception to the BBC headline that reads "Webcams used to attack Reddit and Twitter recalled." Their use of the term webcam is egregiously in error.

By definition, a "Webcam:"

  • Has not been a factor in these DDOS attacks.
  • Are not network attached devices.
  • Are usually USB connected to a computer.
  • Are not able to do anything without the host computer.

While you may think me pedantic about the headline, the BBC’s overly broad definition of a "webcam" does their audience a disservice. There’s simply no need to have every granny who video chats with her grandkids worried about the one-eyed Logitech menace atop her monitor.

Quite plainly, it’s the router, Dropcam, Nest thermostat or Skybell that she should be worried about. Not that those products have been cited as problematic, but by virtue of the fact that they are network connected, they at least might be compromised.

Q1-2016 Broadband Update: Bye Bye Global Capacity, Hello Tachus!

According to Bob Dylan, “The times they are a-changing.” I certainly hope so. I’ve made some changes to our broadband service hereabouts, and I’m hopeful about a new alternative. The details of these two things are worth sharing.

I’ve long held that someone in a technology business, who works from a home office full time, should have redundant forms of internet access. If you’re going to have redundant access they should use different modes of connection. That way a single errant truck or backhoe doesn’t take out both of your services.

This belief was strengthened by our own experience in events like Hurricane Ike in 2008. We lost Comcast service for several weeks, falling back to our stodgy old DSL circuit. The DSL meant that we had IP phones running the morning after the storm, when even cellular service was down, amazed and confounded our neighbors.

Our first broadband service to this location was a DSL circuit. The name on the bill changed numerous times. What started out as Sprint Ion devolved into Earthlink, then Covad, Megapath, and most recently Global Capacity. The data rate was slow, but reliability was high.

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User Experience: T-Mobile’s Continental Plans

TMobile-Phones-CoOmpositeEarlier this year T-Mobile altered their US Simple Choice Plans to include coverage in Canada and Mexico without roaming charges. The plans eliminate roaming while out of the country, but also eliminate international long distance when calling Canada and Mexico. Further, they include “4G LTE data in Canada & Mexico.” Since we go to Canada to visit family at least once a year the new plan sounded quite useful.

Change is hard…

Last month we made our annual trek to the Great White North. While making plans an associate, who is also a T-Mobile customer, recommended that I call T-Mobile and make sure that we had the correct plan. Failure to do so would result in us incurring the usual roaming charges for platinum-plated voice and data service while travelling.

On the very eve of our departure I remembered to call T-Mobile and make the change to the account. In fact, I called from the airport (IAH) while we were awaiting the departure of our initial flight to Toronto.

Of course, I called the from my mobile phone. The automated system advised that there would be some on-hold time, and I could opt to have them call me back, which I did. The callback took about ten minutes.

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Bytes Must Flow – Backup Strategies for SOHO Internet Access

Late last evening there was a fire at Oxford & Barkley, or so we’re told, that took out Comcast service some neighborhoods in Houston, including where we live in The Woodland Heights. As such we are presently without cable TV or our primary internet access.

The loss of cable TV is potentially stressful for Estella, but she’s off to work for the day so it won’t be a problem until this evening. Given my home-office-based work-life the loss of internet access is potentially a show-stopper for me. It’s at times like this that I’m glad we have backup internet access.

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The Comcast Twins Are Idiots

Comcast SMC RouterNPR’s Marketplace recently had a nice interview with the CEO of Comcast. Part of that interview referenced the companies problem with a poor reputation for customer service. That brought to mind our own experience with the company, past and ongoing.

As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, we rely upon Comcast Business Class internet access as our primary means of internet connectivity. While I’d love to have a greater diversity of alternatives, Comcast is the best that we can do around Houston for home office users.

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