August 8, 2009: The Living Room is Wired

I accidentally slept in way too late this morning.  There is a ton of work to be done and I had only meant to sleep for a little while.  When I woke up even Oreo had decided that it was time to have gotten up and have left the bedroom to go down to the living room seeking out his morning sun spot on the brown chair by the windows.

I found out last night that my boss is traveling to Los Angeles today.  So I am covering a little more than I had been planning on this morning.  He is working from there so I am only covering extra while he is traveling, but it is a very busy morning.

I did everything that I could this morning to streamline the system upgrade process.  It is a rather manual process with a lot of steps, a lot of checks and a lot that can go wrong coupled with several reboots which, of course, cause the process to take forever as you wait for the machines to cycle through over and over again.

Dominica spent the morning cleaning after Liesl went down for a nap around a quarter after ten.  She got a ton of cleaning done in the upstairs.  The basement really cannot be helped much, though.

Susan arrived at half past noon.  She had been in the complex for a while but had a really hard time finding our house as the street is mismarked and the three people in the complex to whom she spoke had never heard of our road.  So she just drove around for a while looking for us.

We visited for a little while and she got to meet Liesl who was just waking up from a nice, long nap.  Then the five of us drove out to Grandma’s on Crompond for lunch.  I am still getting the bagel and lox platter almost every time that we go there.  I love it.  And, of course, we all got pie for dessert.  You are not allowed to eat at Grandma’s without getting pie.

Susan left Peekskill shortly after we returned from lunch.  Surprisingly it was around four thirty already by that point.  My how the day flew by!

I watched Liesl and Oreo while dad and Dominica went out to Home Depot to do shopping for the stuff that we need to do the painting tomorrow.  They picked up paint and paint supplies and a new, high-velocity fan to use in the living room.  Our living room gets almost no airflow and it gets very warm in there even when the house is below seventy degrees.  It is a real problem that the few areas of the house that we constantly use – the master bedroom and the living room – are always very, very warm and the parts that we seldom use – bathrooms, the kitchen, etc. – are really cold.  So the air conditioning works really hard just to keep the house livable even when it should not have to do so at all.

This evening we worked on running the CAT6 cabling from the wiring closet, which is located under our stairs, into the living room so that we can hook up our entertainment systems, the Sony PS3 and XBOX 360, directly to Gigabit Ethernet rather than having the PS3 connect over very slow 802.11b wireless and the XBOX be left with no connection at all as it is wired only.  Our original plan was to run this cable through the basement and drill through the floor to run it upstairs but after some research that dad did on the position of the walls we decided that it was far simpler and better, and required no modifications, to snake it directly from the cabling closet through existing holes in the floor and come out at the top of the stairs.  Doing it this way also cuts about eighteen feet of cable length off of the run making it more reliable and less costly as CAT6 cable is definitely not cheap.

Our original plan, back in April, was to run four or five long CAT6 runs up to the living room, but after much thought and discussion we realized how much better it would be to move the Apple AirPort Extreme wireless access point from the basement to the living room giving us better WiFi on the upper levels and out on the deck as well as providing three GigE ports in the living room directly next to the PS3 and XBOX 360.  It gives us one or two fewer physical connections that we would have had with the original plan but it saves money and a lot of effort and provides us with greatly improved wireless coverage.  It also moves more equipment out of the wiring closet which has no ventilation.  Right now the closet door is left open to allow it to cool but that is far from ideal.  Once the wireless is out, which generates more than its fair share of heat, the next big item to leave is the Netgear SC101 SAN device that we plan to have ready for dad to take with him this weekend.  That will leave nothing but the cable modem (bridge), firewall and switch in the wiring closet along with the associated battery unit – none of which generate very much heat at all.  So once we are down to just those we should be able to close the door there making the whole situation far less intrusive.

Running the cable proved to be really easy.  The hard part, that I was really dreading, was finishing the cable by putting the RJ45 ends onto it as we are building our own cables so that we can control the length and run them through the walls.  Dominica has always been good at building cables and got right to work on this.  She managed to get the cable right the first time.  We plugged it in and it just worked!  Awesome.

We moved the Apple AirPort Extreme up to the living room and plugged it in.  We got a GigE connection straight away.  Now the real tests – to see what will happen when we plug in the PS3 and the XBOX 360.

First we tried the PS3.  It connected and got its GigE connection via the wired interface.  We connected to MediaTomb and tried watching some movies.  It was awesome.  Our UPnP connected movies started instantly – none of the wait time that we had when using the wireless.  No buffering needed. Even really high bitrate media started instantly and played perfectly.  Movies looked awesome.  The movie list loaded instantly.  This is going to be awesome.  We will be watching everything this way for sure from now on.  People are going to love this.

We tried watching some PlayOn media from NetFlix and it did appear to work just slightly better than before but still has the same problems that it always did.  We are pretty sure that those problems are actually with the PS3 itself and not with PlayOn or NetFlix but it has been hard to tell.

After verifying that the PS3 would work wonderfully with the new setup we switched to the XBOX 360.  I ran the system updates as the box has not been turned on in quite some time.  We tested the PlayOn connection, which worked instantly, and discovered that almost all of the problems that we have been having with watching things on the PS3 were the PS3 and not the fault of PlayOn or NetFlix.  Suddenly everything just works!  We are very excited.  The unfortunate thing is that our MediaTomb server does not support the proprietary format of the XBOX 360 for streaming so we cannot use it for that yet.  So the PS3 will continue to handle our “in house” media and the XBOX 360 will handle the PlayOn stuff from NetFlix, Hulu, CBS and Amazon VOD.

We watched several episodes of The Wizards of Waverly Place because Dominica and I have had to have been skipping episodes all over the place when they fail to play on the PS3.  Dad went to bed around ten.  Dominica stayed up until just before midnight.  I stayed up later and watched the first episode of Sonny with a Chance which Dominica has seen along with most of the first season watching it without me.  Now that it works on the 360 I can watch it comfortably on the big screen.

I took the time to download the latest expansion pack to Fable II while I was up and using the 360.  Now that is ready for me to play the moment that I have some spare time.  It is a short expansion, I am told.  I am still very excited to get back into the world of Fable II – that is still one of my favourite games ever.

I did some hunting around and discovered that The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition was not available for download to the XBOX 360.  Secret is the original title in the Monkey Island series that released from Lucas Arts in 1990.  It is almost twenty years old this year and Lucas Arts just made a complete remake of the game as a downloadable title for the 360.  What is really cool is that they completely updated the game including new music and voice acting using the same cast that they used for the fourth title in the series, Escape from Monkey Island, which we have for Windows as well as for the PlayStation 2.  Included with the remake is a faithful port of the original as well and by hitting the select button you can switch back and forth between the original and the remake. Very cool idea indeed.  So I downloaded Secret and played a few minutes of it to check it out.  I am quite excited to get to go back and play the original now.  It has been a very long time since I have seen it.

Earlier today while I had some time I also downloaded some titles for the Wii.  There was a big Wii update since the last time that we had it turned on and now you can run games directly from the SD card which is a big improvement and a rather obvious one that I cannot believe that they did not figure out before.  Nintendo has released The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the Wii retro console which was a really good idea, I think.  I never played the original on the N64 even though I had bought it when it released and was interested in playing it now so was glad to see if on the Wii.  Many serious players claim that Majora’s Mask is the best title, although least appreciated, in the Zelda series so I need to try it out.

I also downloaded Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One which just released for the Wii.  Tales is the fifth installment in the Monkey Island series and the first to release in a very, very long time.  Very exciting indeed.  Tales is also the first completely three dimensional title in the series.  The others were pre-rendered two dimensional with a three dimensional perspective to make it feel 3D.  Tales is an original for the WiiWare platform.  I hope to get to play it very soon.  Dominica will be really excited about this one as well.

Having the living room hard wired to the basement is really going to change the way that we use our house.  This is a major breakthrough for us.  It will affect our television viewing, video game playing, music listening, etc.  This is a change that will impact our lives on a daily basis.  Now what we can see that we want is to get wires run to the upstairs bedrooms.  That, of course, will not be nearly as easy as wiring the living room.  I have no idea how we will manage to pull that off if we even can.  It would be great to get a wire up to our bedroom so that, eventually, we could have a television up there with a PS3 or something to watch the UPnP content on the network.  That would make the media server that much more valuable.

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