Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Plex via a NOW TV box

After reading how to sideload a Plex client on a NOW TV box I decided to pick one up during the Black Friday sale for £14.99. 

They are basically Roku 3 boxes rebranded as NOW TV (Owned by Sky TV) and feature a limited app store with competing apps such as NetFlix and LoveFilm removed.

I am thinking of using Plex Media Server as a way of ditching my Blu Ray player and ripping all my DVDs to stop my kids scratching them to pieces. Plex indexes the movies and downloads the covers and descriptions from internet movie databases.

Because the NOW TV box has a limited app store, Plex is not available to download directly, so it needs to be sideloaded onto the box.

Sideloading the Roku Plex client onto the NOW TV box basically involves accessing the developer part of the box and installing a package file, which takes 5 minutes.

The box is very stable via WiFi and wired Ethernet and is a very good Plex client especially considering the price.

I'll write another post when I get around to ripping my DVD collection to hard disk.

Powerline Ethernet Adapters Interfering with Fibre Broadband

I'm a fan of Powerline Ethernet adapters, I've had some Devolo AV 200 adapters running happily for a number of years connecting my desktop PC to the broadband router.

Since moving house and upgrading to Fibre broadband I've had no end of issues with my broadband. The broadband signal kept dropping off and requiring a router reboot.

I originally thought the issue was down to my broadband provider, but I eventually pin-pointed the issue down to the powerline adapters. I could make the broadband connection fail instantly just by trying to download something via the Devolo adapters.

They seem to interfere with my broadband signal. This could possibly be due to the internal wiring in my house. The master socket has been moved and it probably runs near a mains cable. It turns out that VSDL2 operates at 17Mhz and AV2 Homeplus operate at 2-80Mhz.

To prevent my broadband connection from dropping off when using the powerline adapters I had to place them several metres away from the fibre broadband router, which partly defeats the object of not having to place Ethernet wires everywhere.

I even tried upgrading my powerline adapters, but I found that they made my broadband connection drop off even when I place them several metres from my fibre router. The new powerline adapters use the Homeplug AV2 specification, which uses both the neutral and earth cables of the household wiring.

After many hours troubleshooting, reading this post and sending back the new powerline adapters I have now wired my desktop PC to my router with cat5e. The result is a much better internet experience and higher throughput.

HomePlug Networking Incompatibilities

It seems HomePlug certified powerline networking components aren't as interoperable as it would first appear.  I've been using Devolo Homeplug dLAN 200 desk units for a number of years now and they have been trouble free and constantly out perform wireless networking in terms of speed.  I recently bought another Devolo dLAN 200 unit to expand my network to enable streaming video to a Windows Media Extender.

I assumed it would be a case of just connecting it to the mains and using the Devolo dLAN configuration wizard to set all the units up with a new encryped password.  I soon realised that this wasn't the case.
The dLAN configuration wizard didn't even detect the new unit on the mains network.  After looking through the manual for a while scatching my head searching for a non-existant troubleshooting guide, I spotted a paragraph that mentioned that older Devolo products using firmware 1.x need their firmware upgraded in order to work with newer models.

Upgrading the firmware has now made all my dLAN 200 HomePlug certified devices compatible!  Thank God for standards Smile

Product Review: Train Signal's IIS Web Servers CBT Video Training

As an ASP.NET web developer, I think it's important to understand and know how to configure Microsoft's web server, Internet Information Services (IIS). Depending on the organisation you work for you may or may not get the opportunity to tinker with IIS, but this shouldn't stop you from learning the basics.

You could go out and buy a book on configuring IIS and then install IIS on your computer to practise what you've read, but thanks to the guys at Trainsignal.com who have kindly sent me some of their training videos, I've discovered a much easier way of learning.

Train Signal CD-ROM

Train Signal provides video training courses for Microsoft, Cisco and CompTIA certifications, including CCNA, A+, Network+.
I'll also be reviewing the Cisco CCNA training videos here soon.

Train Signal's IIS Web Server video training covers both IIS 5 and IIS6, and features topics including installing IIS, creating test websites, hosting more than one website using host headers, adding security, setting up an FTP server, and web server optimisation.

Train Signal CD-ROM menu

The course is taught by Scott Skinger, President and founder of Train Signal. Scott has many years of experience in the IT field, holds various IT certifications and is a competent instructor. The videos are easy to follow and Scott's narration is second to none.

Train Signal lab book sample

The series of videos are backed up with a written guide in the form of the lab book, which comes as a printable PDF on the CD ROM, this goes through the same steps featured in the videos and includes network diagrams like the one above to help you set-up your own lab.

Train Signal video player

If you want to get up to speed on a particular Microsoft product, obtain an IT certification or you don't like reading IT text books then I definitely recommend you give these training videos a try.

Course Contents in full:

Introduction
Lab Setup
Setting up the lab
Computer 1
Computer 2
Computer 3
Lab
Scenario
Installing IIS on Windows 2000 Server
Creating an HTML file
Hosting Ben & Brady's site
Configure DNS so Internet users can find your website
Testing the website from the client
Lab
Scenario
Creating a test website using an HTML file
Creating an additional website on the web server
Creating host headers
Configuring DNS for the second website
Test and view website from client
Assigning site operators
Adding security to a website
Test and view the website from a client
Lab
Scenario
Downloading and installing service packs and hot fixes
Setting NTFS permissions
Disabling Netbios over TCP/IP
Download and run The IIS lockdown tool from Microsoft
Enable and view logging

BBC Panorama programme 'Wi-Fi: A Health Warning' was unfair

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have said that a Panorama television programme they aired back in May 2007 concerning the possible health effects of WiFi, or wireless internet was unfair, and that it was presented in such a way that it was deemed by some viewers as misleading and in some cases pure scaremongering.
The episode followed a call by the Health Protection Agency pressing for a formal investigation back in April 2007.

If you missed it you can watch the programme here, Wi-Fi: a warning signal. Due to the amount of complains sent in by viewers of the programme the BBC interviewed the journalist behind the controversial programme on NewsWatch below.

Request a web page using HTTP and a Telnet session

Ever wanted to be a real web geek?
Well, you can get one step closer by following these steps and browse a website using a Telnet session via the Windows(R) DOS terminal.
Believe it or not you can actually use this method to diagnose HTTP issues, and it also provides an insite into how the HyperText Tranfer Protocol (HTTP) works.

HTTP Request using Telnet

  1. Open a DOS prompt by clicking Start > Run and typing CMD and hitting Enter.
  2. Clear your screen of commands by typing CLS and pressing Enter.
  3. Start a Telnet session by typing telnet and pressing Enter.
  4. Configure the Telnet session to echo typed characters to the screen by typing set localecho.
  5. Instruct Telnet how you want to handle the Enter key by typing set crlf.
  6. Open up a connection to the site you want over HTTP port 80, by typing o nikmakris.com 80.
  7. Press Enter several times until the cursor lands on an empty line and then request a page from the site.
  8. Type the following carefully without making errors:

GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: nikmakris.com

  1. Then press Enter twice and you should receive the HTML response for the page you just requested from the web server, delivered to you by HTTP!

Here's what you should have typed, and the response from the DOS terminal and Telnet session. I've ommited the verbose HTML response from the web server.


Welcome to Microsoft Telnet Client

Escape Character is 'CTRL+]'

Microsoft Telnet> set localecho
Local echo on
Microsoft Telnet> set crlf
New line mode - Causes return key to send CR & LF
Microsoft Telnet> o nikmakris.com 80
Connecting To nikmakris.com...
GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: nikmakris.com

Worried about potential health effects of wireless networks? Six easy steps to setting up an alternative

You may have read the scare stories about wireless networks in the press recently, and you may be wondering what you can do to avoid the potential health effects and still have a home which is fairly wire-free.
You may also have recently been given a free wireless router from your ISP.
Sky broadband, AOL broadband, BT broadband, Pipex, they nearly all bundle a wireless router in with your broadband contract these days, so what do you do?

Upgrade to a Powerline Network

Whether you believe the scare stories or not. I'll show you how you can still keep your wireless router but without the potential side-effects.

The answer? Upgrade to a Powerline network. A lesser known technology that uses your mains electrical wiring to distribute your broadband connection, which will allow you to connect a computer anywhere you have a power socket, and turn off the wireless signals so you don't have to worry about "WiFi smog".

Six Steps to Avoid Using WiFi

  1. Purchase at least 2 Powerline wall-plugged adapters (Netgear, Devolo and Dlink all have Powerline products). This is enough to connect one computer to the Internet.
  2. Plug 1 adapter into a wall socket near the wireless router, and connect your existing router to the Powerline adapter using an Ethernet patch cable.
  3. Plug the other Powerline adapter into a wall socket near the computer you want to connect to the Internet and connect your computer to the second Powerline adapter using an Ethernet patch cable.
  4. You should now be online!
  5. Now you'll need to log-in to your wireless router console, usually via a web browser (see your router manual for details) and disable the wireless access point on the router. See the screen-shot below for a visual, obviously your router console may look completely different, but usually the instruction manuals are fairly good.
  6. You can now surf the web anywhere in your home wire-free and without using WiFi!

Still confused? Check out Devolo's Powerline flash presentation, which explains all about Powerline networking simply and with animation.

Powerline Networking Now Fast Enough For Streaming HD Content

I've decided to give up waiting for the 802.11n standard to be ratified. When you spend hard earned cash on a piece of kit, you want to have some confidence that it will work in a year or so. Most of the high-end routers on sale today use a proprietary pre-802.11n or draft 802.11n, which may or may not be compatible with devices that meet the standard, when the IEEE pull their finger out.

What is Powerline networking?

Powerline networking has been around for sometime. Essentially it uses your electrical mains wiring as the media to send data over as if it were category 5 cable. You simply plug a box into the wall socket, which converts these signals that multiplex over the mains wiring to Ethernet. Typically you'd have one next to your router, which connects to your routers Ethernet socket, and the other in the room where your computer is located.

Advantages of Powerline over Wireless networking?

One of the main advantages of Powerline networking over Wi-Fi is that there are no dead spots where you can't get a good connection. As long as you are near a mains outlet, you can have a connection; Albeit with an Ethernet cable connected to the wall.

The latest batch of Powerline networking kits are sporting theoretical speeds of up to 200Mbps! Although in practice, overhead in the system, mains wiring and the 100Base-T outputs limit this maximum throughput; However, I have been getting speeds of over 100Mbps along my mains wiring, easily more than 802.11g, and more reliable too.

Installation does not require software drivers, it literally is a case of plugging them into the wall sockets, and connecting up the Ethernet cables and turning them on. This also means out-of-the-box Linux, Vista and OSX support! They'll also work with games machines and media extenders, or any other piece of kit that has an Ethernet port.

I purchased the Devolo HomePlug dLAN 200 AVDesk Starter Kit, which comes with two HomePlug adapters. They include Quality of Service for uninterrupted Internet TV and IP telephony circuitry, and they were given a "best buy" from PC Pro magazine.

There are other manufacturers who produce Powerline networking equipment, like Netgear's HD Powerline adapters, but after reading this review in PC Pro I decided to opt for the devices that conform to the Powerline AV standard.