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What on earth is making my home network so slow! (Part 1)

networkLet's face it, we've all been there. Sitting wondering why on earth a network connection that, up until 5 minutes ago had been working just fine was now all but useless. Less tech savvy individuals may just shrug their shoulders and try again later but anybody else is left wondering why. As a reader of this blog post that fact automatically places you in the latter category. So, to the problem. Could it be that somebody else in the house has started a large download? If that's the case its the easiest to solve just by asking around but the plethora of devices that are in our houses today make the job a lot more complex. For me it was a long forgotten mobile phone owned by my son, left on charge under the bed and set to auto update its code and apps that proved the final straw and drove me to come up with a solution to this problem.

Lets look at the problem in the round first of all. Homes nowadays usually have a router which connects off to the cable company or to the telephone line. These routers allow all of the devices in the house to connect to the net whether on the wireless or the wired side of life. Its not uncommon for a home network to support 10 to 20 devices not all of which will be known about by every other member of the household. Any one of these devices has the potential to bring the network to its knees for hours at an end by starting a large download. Of course the possibility also exists that somebody else on the outside has gained access to your network and it's important that this is not overlooked.

The first step in getting a handle on the situation will be to take control of your home router and secure it so that it cannot be manipulated by anybody else. Most home routers nowadays have a small, cut-down, webserver running on board which allows a management user to access the management web page. By using this web page clients can change all of the settings on the device. The page is usually accessible by both the wired and the wireless network. If you are using a Windows machine the easiest way to establish a connection to this page is to do the following:

Untitled

  1. Click the pearl button and in the box which says "search programs and files" type cmd and press enter. This should bring up a window which looks like that shown on the right. Inside this window, type the command "ipconfig". The output should also resemble that shown on the right showing among other things, the address of the default gateway. Take a careful note of this address. (192.168.1.1 in this case)

  2. Open up a browser, type this default gateway address into the address bar and click enter. If your router is new or poorly configured you should now be looking at the control page for the device. If the device is configured properly you should now be looking at a login prompt page.

  3. Once logged in you will then be able to control the settings of the router.


This post is not written to be a guide for any specific router so I will keep any further instructions necessarily wide in scope.

The following bullets will link to posts that will be made available soon which examine the different aspects of this problem. Check back soon to see them when they become available.

  • Who is connected? Checking to understand which devices are connected to your router on WIFI and wired networks and establishing whether or not they should be.

  • What are they doing? Most routers show a basic table of transferred bandwidth as a part of their reporting. This can be used to examine the usage on your network and ascertain which devices are consuming most of the network.

  • Securing my router. As touched on previously, the router should be configured appropriately so that only those users whom you wish to have access are able to access both the network and the routers management page.

  • Customising the routers code. Home routers purchased off the shelf nowadays have woefully inadequate firmware that is frequently shown to be buggy at best and insecure at worst. Consider replacing this firmware with a fully customisable open source router such as dd-wrt or tomato.

  • Open source router management. (Wireshark and SNMP) Want to take the control of your home network to the max. Consider implementing network management, bandwidth management and device management.


I hope this post has proved informative as an intro to controlling your home network. Check back soon for further updates.
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Spotify SpotiFM Lastify Last.FM

As someone already devoted to another music platform my introduction to Spotify was met with not a little scepticism. ‘Surely this can’t be better than Last.fm, I thought to myself as I curiously downloaded the app and signed up.

Well it turned out I was wrong. lasfmheartspotify

Well ok perhaps not completely wrong. A common theme amongst most folks is to position Spotify and Last.fm as direct competitors. While there are some superficial similarities, the case is oversimplified since Spotify and Last.fm each provide many unique features. The more I use both, the more I see how they can work together. Last.fm helps me discover new music and track my listening habits through the years and seems to be more of a social networking platform while Spotify sits on top playing most of the actual music.

In actual fact the two organisations are increasingly working together with the introduction of a new facility to scrobble tracks from Spotify to the Last.FM profile. If all this sounds like chinese to you and you like your music, I strongly suggest getting registered and giving both sites a try.

I personally dont use Last.FM to play much music anymore, opting instead for scrobbling from my home theatre PC running windows media player. I prefer to use the scrobbling feature to collect up all my listening habits into my profile and thus enable the social networking and music recommendation side of the platform using spotify to listen to tracks I dont actually have in my own library. Another cool feature of spotify is the ability to quickly import other peoples playlists into the app and listen straight away (www.spotifyplaylists.co.uk).

All in all its a fantastic combination which, when used in tandem with ones own MP3 music collection is about as good as Web3.0 for muso's can get.

Some other useful counterparts to the two core apps are shown below:

  • freshspotify – Tracks newly released music on Spotify and compares it with your favourite artists on Last.fm. Subscribe to artist RSS feeds (or email) to be notified of updates. This is a really useful service: you can browse the site (which nicely summarizes the new Spotify releases) and sign in whit a google account to add artist alerts based on your Last.fm profile (up to a maximum of 100 artists).



  • Spotify.fmFrank Quist’s new and improved webtool to list the latest Spotify releases of all your favourite artists on Last.fm. Also has a neat RSS feed and the ability to search based on both username or tag and search on similar artists.



  • Spotify updates from Last.fm – This app can look for any artist in your library (not just your top 50 artists) and lets you specify the playcount range to consider too. It will also return recommended artists, so this is a great way to discover more music from artists you’re perhaps not too aware of, and complements the other apps well. Developer OnDistantShores (who is also responsible for the excellent Universal Scrobbler) promises more updates soon, including the option to specify a tag and search new releases by artists with that tag: brilliant!



  • Last.fm Spotify Search – Script that adds a wee green note icon next to tracks, albums and artists on Last.fm’s website. To use, install Greasemonkey then add the script. You can then click the note icon to search in Spotify. I find this one really useful, it saves on typing and binds Last.fm and Spotify together nicely.



  • Lastify - A plug-in that bolts onto the regular Spotify client and lets you Love, Ban, and Tag tracks back to Last.fm.



  • Last.fm + Spotify + Find new albums – Newly updated, this webapp tells you what’s new in Spotify based on your Last.fm Top 50 artist favourites. It can also match against recommendations: a great way to discover new bands. Results are grouped by when they were added to Spotify and let you click both the album/single and artist. There’s also an RSS feed you can subscribe to, and the app now lets you filter to view only singles or albums as well as as “show tracks” dropdown for each album.



Groups


  • Spotify – The best Spotify group on Last.fm, leader Faz regularly checks in and updates the Shoutbox, and there are always active discussions going on.



  • Scrobble for Spotify – Originally set-up before Spotify had a scrobble feature, the Scrobble for Spotify group continues to attract new members.

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Furby on steroids?? Meet Chumby

ChumbySay "Chumby" and an image of a squat beanbag with a touch-screen comes to mind--that is, if you know what a Chumby is.

Steve Tomlin, is the genius behind the evolution of the Chumby from a single gadget that can pull weather, music, news, photos and trivia from the Web into an assortment of "powered by Chumby" devices.

Tomlin, Chumby Industries' chief executive,  has spent the past few months striking partnerships with some of the largest consumer electronics companies, including Sony, Broadcom, Marvell and Samsung. The partnerships will enable the port of Chumby's open-source operating system to a wide range of gadgets, including TVs, Blu-ray players and clock and tabletop radios, some before the end of the year. 

Tomlin, who prefers consumers to think of Chumby as a content and media business, based on an ecosystem of widgets and third-party developers has a vision of Chumby's future that centres on bringing a personal multimedia Web experience to as many connected consumer electronics as possible. He is quoted as saying: “Selling someone an LCD in a plastic frame with a memory card is not a compelling product… The challenge is to reinvent how to share photos and media.”

The first Chumby-powered photo frame will be able to display content from photo sites Flickr and Photobucket, along with accessing social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as news feeds, Internet radio and weather forecasts. Content can be be pushed to other ‘powered by Chumby’ devices so that, for example, users can share photos with other members of their Chumby social network. Chumby's software recognizes other Chumby owners, so users will be able to share photos by "pushing" them over the air to their friends.


Gadgets such as the now extinct Nabaztag and Chumby hope to fill a burgeoning space in the phenomenon to merge the online world with the offline world and it is surprising that there have not been more of these types of product released to the market place.


This will surely change greatly over the coming 12 months.

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