High tech TV on a low tech budget

October 4th, 2010

We’ve mentioned our USB HDTV dongle a few times. One of my big annoyances with the loss of analog stations is the new complication in trying to point the directional antenna in our camper without an analog station to home in on.

Now, we don’t watch all that much TV, so it took me a while to figure this out and even longer to get around to posting it. Antennaweb.org has a great interface for telling you which direction and distance the nearby television stations are. Simply plug in your location and it gives you a listing of channels that might be strong enough to receive and what compass direction they are.

The next bit is just as easy. Get a permanent marker and draw a line on your antenna crank that lines up with the direction your antenna is pointing when raised so that you can tell where you’re pointing while you swivel it. Finally, get a cheapo compass and learn to use it. You can then easily point your antenna whatever direction is required.

If you have satellite TV, please move along. Nothing to see here.

Tinfoil hat (for EVDO)

July 28th, 2010

The things you’ll do when you’re sitting around the house…

The other day I built a parabolic reflector out of cardboard and some foil tape I had lying about. I was researching various homemade antenna designs I want to tinker with and stumbled on one that I actually had all the parts for on hand. As we are so close to the edge of EVDO reception here that moving down the hill a few feet would kill the signal, it seemed like it would be worth a shot. After all, it cost maybe fifty cents for the foil tape I used and the cardboard was free.

Parabolic EVDO Antenna.

Now, this is hardly a good mobile solution as it’s fairly directional, but after spending twenty minutes or so on the roof pointing the reflector and testing bandwidth, I got pretty good results. The SNR increase doesn’t even register on the cradlepoint’s web interface, which is fairly lackluster, so I had to result to ping flooding our upstream router to detect a better signal. No, I didn’t DoS it, I kept the packet count to 100 at a time while aligning and 1000 packets for bandwidth testing.

I didn’t record all the numbers, but to give you an idea of the improvement: without the reflector, we were seeing 10-30% packet loss and average roundtrip times that ranged from 5 seconds to 9.5 seconds. Even at that, the connection was usable. Once the reflector was aligned, packet loss dropped to 0-1% and average roundtrip times stayed about 2.5 seconds. This equates to a 100-300% increase in bandwidth plus the bandwidth recovered from dropped packets.

The connection is hardly blazing fast, but it’s quite a bit more usable than previously. For our normal usage patterns, it’s actually quite acceptable. Bear in mind that our average roundtrip times are similar to 380ms. The previously stated times are for icmp packets being sent out as fast as possible and saturating the connection.

With that sort of improvement, I’m much more determined to build a waveguide antenna for times when we’re having trouble hitting a tower. Bonus points if I can fit both the wifi and 3g spectrums into the same antenna and use it for a wifi repeater as well.

A new vidiot box

January 28th, 2009

Yep, in spite of knowing I shouldn’t be watching a lot of TV, I do miss some of the PBS type programming from time to time. In addition, we might watch an hour or so of random network television before the commercial overload kicks in and ruins the viewing experience. Our initial plan was to get a USB dongle and connect to one of the laptops whenever we felt like watching a bit of TV, but up until the end of the year, we never got around to it.

Well, I bought us a Avertv Hybrid Volar Max for Christmas. We’ve only just been using it the past few days, but I’ve got to say I’m quite happy with the functionality. I really expected HDTV to be much less reliable for us compared to analog TV as we’re often out in the middle of nowhere.

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Dear Brent,

November 7th, 2008

On 2008/10/25 at 12:11 PM, Brent wrote:

Hey guys,

Currently working my way through your all your postings. My wife and I are in the “can we really do this” stage of making the same change that you two have. Very much enjoying reading through your process.

Much like you two, we both work in technology and are somewhat dependent on the Internet. Add to that, the need for research / blogging / and potentially some work while traveling and connectivity gets to be one of our important decisions. So I’m curious, how are you feeling about the cell network decision versus satellite? Working out as you had planned?

Brent

Well, Brent, I’d have to say I don’t like any of the choices available. I’m pretty happy with the performance of EVDO, but I’m extremely upset with Sprint changing the contract midstream so that it no longer remotely resembles the class of service that we originally purchased. I have already ranted about this particular event once, so I’ll try and stay on subject…

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Tech Specs

July 23rd, 2008

Edited 10/20/2012. Blame Blars.

The Van:

2003 GMC Savana 2500

  • AWD. When we get stuck, we’ll be really stuck.
  • Positraction. I mean REALLY stuck.
  • Pro package. Next best thing to a tent, but with lights!

The Truck:

2001 Ford F-350 Lariat

  • Dual rear wheels
  • Crew cab
  • 4×4
  • 7.3L Diesel (International)
  • Timbrens
  • Front and rear receivers

The Camper:

2008 Arctic Fox 1140 (poorly constructed, no… really poorly)

  • Wet bath
  • Couch seating
  • Full-wall cabover wardrobe
  • 9k BTU Air conditioner
  • No oven or microwave (more storage!)
  • Thermal pane windows
  • For sale. Cheap.

The Bikes:

  • Trek RST 3700
  • Roketa MC-17-50T (Sicily) RIPieces!
  • Custom, ancient and venerable road bike. Because we spend our time on dirt roads?

The Internet: Ubiquitous

Sprint EVDO service (for now you greedy bastards!)

  • Novatel U727 EVDO card Fancy mini sd to USB storage adaptor with potential for alien technology. For sale.
  • Cradlepoint CT350 Wifi router
  • Dual-band Omni-directional external antenna
  • Wilson. 3 Watt Bi-Directional Dual-Band EVDO amplifier. How cool would this be if we were using alien technology? For sale.
  • Unix on a phone. Verizon. Google. Hey, almost time for a new wifi only camera/storage/gps/pocket gadget! Penny phones!

The Network:

  • Fujitsu Lifebook 1510
  • Dell Vostro 1500 Jenn smashed it lots of ways. I recommend bondo. For sale. Some parts still good!
  • Asus 1005pe. I love Moore’s Law. I still do all the really important stuff on the console. I mean, I have more spare crunch time on my old router than it takes to run a fair sized company. This is so much more CPU and memory than I really need. I bought it for the battery. 14ish hours. Very solar friendly.
  • Asus 1215B. Jenn can do some fancy graphics with this. I don’t understand her alien technology, but she seems to be happy.
  • ReadyNAS 600 (700GB RAID5)Massive power requirements for more performance than we need. Outdated drives. New drives and firmware would make it even more overpowered for us. Runs linux and is massively hackable. Might still have a wifi card stuck in it. Used this for storing captured video from MythTV network. Might be for sale if it can still be found. Firmware is modified stock. Warranty voided professionally.
  • 2 Cowon A2’s for random movie/music access. Still use these daily! I wish these were more hackable.
  • One of the most hackable linksys routers. Currently acting as a hotspot hijacker and repeater with automated p2p file sharing. Rarely use this, but just too many knobs on it to let the aliens have it. Would trade for even more unobtainable linksys router with an external antenna jack and at least 1 USB port.
  • Toshiba external drives. 2 x 1TB.
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