Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Home Networking Front

It’s been a little quite on the front as of late. Mainly this is a budget issue. I was willing to take on a little debt for a kitchen or a bathroom, but this is definitely a pay-as-you-go project. The slow pace also has a little to do with R&D, as well. What I will be doing for the front parlor is pretty much squared away. It is the other rooms that I’m still not sure what to do with.

The whole Thin Client idea may or may not work out. You can get a base model for around $200, but that won’t really do what I need it to do with out having a server. In case you forgot, a Thin Client is a very small, solid state computer with no hard drive. The benefits of this are no noise, low heat, and compact size. The idea is that the Thin Client hangs from the back of a monitor and pulls any software off of a network or another PC.

The HP Media Vault I bought is not good enough to act as a server for the low-end thin client. That’s not to say I’m unhappy with the Media Vault. It does exactly what I hoped it would do. It is just that in order to run the low-end thin client, I would need to have a server or PC dedicated to serving applications to the thin client. To do it with out a server I would need to spend upwards of $450 on a higher-end thin client. That is a bit much for the kitchen.

In my hunt for thin clients I also saw this little thing. It is a Chip PC Jack PC. This is another type of Thin Client that mounts in the wall like an electrical outlet and then you just plug in a monitor, keyboard, speakers, etc. These run around $300. I really haven’t had time to investigate this too much, but I think it is a cool idea. I’m not sure I would want to knock a bunch of holes in walls for these in every room. They are really not that attractive. The thought is more to mount this on to another surface, like say, inside of a cabinet or a small desk or something. Maybe I could even Steampunk a small box to mount it in. I would then plug that in to the more universal jack that is mounted in the wall. Again, the benefits are small profile, and no noise.

This brings up the whole issue of putting holes in walls. Every time I talk about this project, whether it is here, to friends, or at other Old House related sites, I get comments about knocking holes in plaster walls for cables. Let’s face it, no walls are pristine and without holes. Everyone has light switches, electrical outlets, phone, and cable TV mounted in boxes cut in to the walls.

When I bought this place, if you counted up all of the boxes mounted in walls for light switches, electrical outlets, cable TV and phone I had a total of 13. There were 4 electrical outlets and 9 wall switches. Think about that. A 3,500 sq. ft house with a total of 18 rooms, including 4 kitchens and 4 bathrooms, and there were a total of 13 boxes in the walls. A modern kitchen might have that many just in the one room.

Most of the electrical came from industrial conduit that snaked through the house. The later addition rooms still had pull-chain lights on the ceiling. All of the phone and cable hook-ups were strung on the outside of the house and then came in through holes drilled through the side of the house. It was just about the most unattractive way to do it. I pulled miles of cable and conduit out and off of the house. I think the only reason the original rooms in the house had wall switches were because Mr. Petch was an electrician and installed them at the time of construction. If not for that, I’m sure all of the rooms would have still only had ceiling fixtures will pull chains when I bought the place in 2002.

So, yes, I will be putting more holes in the walls. In order to get rid of the spiders web of cables strung on the outside of the house, and to get rid of all of the conduit strung on the inside of the house, not to mention bringing the house up to code, I’ve cut many, many holes in the walls for electrical outlets and to install boxes for ceiling fixtures, which were just screwed to the ceiling when I first bought the place. I gotten very good at it, and never damaged the plaster. To date, I still have only one combination phone and TV box in the house. That is in the remodeled kitchen.

Each room that will get telecom installed will have one box that will have cables for TV, phone, and internet. All of these will be in a place where a desk or cabinet will be, and you will most likely never see it once the room is finished. The plate that the cables mount to excepts a GFCI type face plate, so I will be able to use the same cast brass face plate that will match what I’ve used in all of the other rooms.

It is not an ideal solution, but I really don’t think wireless is ready for prime-time. Yes, I know, there are people out there that have wireless routers and they work fine. Well, mine didn’t, and I plan on doing a lot more with it than just downloading email and surfing the web.

A friend of mine pointed out a few weeks ago that his wireless router works good except when the chimney gets in the way. This goes a long way to explaining why I had so much trouble with my wireless router. I have two huge brick chimneys that run through both floors on the interior of the house. Obviously, Mr. Eugene Mowery was not considering wireless internet transmissions when he designed the house in 1895. I think I’ll let him slide on this, though.

Perhaps in 10 years wireless will be fast enough and have a strong enough signal that it will be ready to do what I want it to do. I’m not willing to wait that long though, so yes, I will be cutting 4 or 5 more 2X4 inch holes in my walls over the next 2 years. I think the historical integrity of the plaster walls can withstand loosing another one quarter of a square foot of plaster. Besides, how many can say they have no modern sheetrock in their homes at all? And how many have no phone or cable in their walls at this time?

So let he/she who is still with all of their pristine, original plaster walls cast the first stone.


Anonymous said...

Greg said...

I've seen this before, and I'm more than a little skeptical about it. Even if it worked moderately well, which I'm sure that is about all it does, you would need to tie up outlets.

Kathy from NJ said...

This has nothing to do with your house but I consider you a supreme computer expert. On Jan 1st my computer made a noise that sounded like the fan running really fast or the hard drive spinning really fast and it froze up. I attempted to restart, didn't work. Opened cover & blew out dust, re-plugged in and now I can't even get it to power on. Fortunately I had saved most files in June; I lost all email files & address book, am missing one semi-important file and am very sad about not having HP Memory Disc Creator software (came free on old) on my new HP. Shall I dispose of the old computer or try to resurrect it?

RBottonister at yahoo dot com

STAG said...

Nothing beats plaster when you have irregular studs in the walls.

Greg said...


You couldn't be more right.


Boy, even if I was good with hardware - I'm more of a software person - I wouldn't even know where to begin. My suggestion is to find a neighbor or friend with a nerdy 15 year old, and pay him $25 to poke a round with it.

Good luck!

StuccoHouse said...

Are you following the CES technology trade show in Vegas this week? I suspect you might get a load of ideas there. I've been seeing some spiffy stuff from (pricey, though).

I'm about as picky as they come re: plaster. As long as you aren't planning on pulling it down and replacing it with plaster, I'don't see why anyone would even comment.

Greg said...

I do have my eye on the new 150-inch LCD TV Panasonic is bringing out. I may need to take out a few walls, and a second mortgage, but it would just be perfect in this house. ;-)

Jayne said...

You said it exactly right. "Original, pristine plaster walls" is an oxymoron!