Gigabit and More on my Home Network

In a recent pursuit to have the fastest speeds possible at home, I have started to upgrade and replace a large section of my home network.

Ensuring That My Network Runs Fast at its Core

Barring the routing technologies at home the most crucial part of my network is my server, an old Dell Optiplex 780 salvaged from an office clear-out it now spends its days hosting my media, files and applications. One of the first things I did was replace all of the cabling around my network. Most being CAT5 the fastest speeds possible were only 100Mbps, this was a noticeable bottleneck when I checked iPerf3 as the switch its connected to, the router and my PC were all gigabit connected and clearly an oversight on my part. Replacing the cable from it to the switch instantly jumped the speed to gigabit. Yay!

Getting Rid of Old Hardware

Another decision I made was to remove some of my old hardware that was no longer up to the task of Gigabit+ speed. That for me meant swapping out a dumb switch capable of 100Mbps max for a new 8 port gigabit one, oddly I bought the 100Mbps one for £10 and sold it for £14 on Ebay so I guess theres money in old switches.

I then replaced its cables too and viola, 1 Gbps throughput on the whole wired network!

What does the future hold?

After looking at transfer speeds between my server and PC, I think the next step is to replace the Optiplex and my PC, as they are now at the point where their age is starting to be a performance problem, although they remain somewhat performant at their daily duties they are both starting to age poorly with the increasing demand from myself for hosting my projects.

I also want to try SFTP+ but I don’t yet have the SSDs or Hard-drives to necessitate it.

My Meraki Home Network

Cisco Meraki MR18
Cisco Meraki MR18

If you have ever wanted to use WiFi reliably in your own home, most homelabbers and computer enthusiasts will eventually learn that using consumer equipment to achieve fast speeds and low ping can be a route that many take in vain, whilst mesh networking appliances look promising for home applications, the ever vast expanding market of power-line networking adapters and WiFi range extenders have lead consumers astray and often leave them unhappy with their network performance due to patchy and inconsistent behavior caused by devices looking for the ‘strongest’ signal despite it not necessarily being the fastest or most optimal.

Having an ISP issued router has never put me off fiddling before, having being issued a Netgear WNR3500L V2 it wasn’t long before I decided to flash Tomato on it and leave Netgear Genie hopefully forever.

Having moved on with my life I quickly became unhappy with the performance of the WiFi and decided it needed sprucing up a little bit, running two routers on two sides of the house were becoming tiresome due to patchiness and being connected to one side of the house while at the other requiring manual adjustment. It was time to buy something enterprise to set-and-forget. Alas enterprise comes with a hefty price tag.

Rather than going mainstream and buying something like Ubiquiti or MikroTiK, popular routers with the home lab community. I decided to take a different approach to save a buck. Having flashed firmware on many devices in the past, such as Arduino, ESP8266s or even other routers I decided to get my hands on the enterprise CISCO Meraki MR18, a subscription model router with a hefty price tag at the current time of £308.38 for a three-year license. Would I be paying that? Absolutely not.

I picked one up off eBay for a fairly high market price of £17.99 which came with a wall bracket and no plug or license. Why so cheap compared to the £308.38 price tag? Well, it turns out Meraki are giving them away free to anyone who sits through their webinar, and once the license runs out it’s my understanding that they essentially become paperweights. Once it arrived I fired it up just to see what it used to be called and see if I could get a hit on WiGLE’s database to see where this thing came from, unfortunately, 0 hits means my best guess is that it came from somewhere around Aylesbury, UK. The location of the Ebay E-Recycler the SSID was generic “Guest Access” and “Staff Internet”.

Once I cleaned up the router it looked brand new, the power cable I got from my drawer of many cables and began to study the thing, the brushed aluminum backing had the screws hidden behind rubber feet, an easy adversary I had the thing open in no time.

Meraki MR18 opened
Big RF Shields 🙂

I particularly like the bendy lightpipe for the RGB leds.

Bendy Light Pipe

The UART pins were neatly placed and populated with pins at the top of the AP and easy to flash with.

I decided to opt for flashing OpenWRT on to it, basically because at the time they were the only ones supporting this particular device and it would only really be acting as an Access Point, with my Tomato router doing all the hard work.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy this picture of my neighbors cat.

Tabitha the cat

Transitioning from Google Map Editor to OpenStreetMap

After using Google Maps for quite a while, I enjoyed areas that had buildings populated on the map, Google does a very good job of this, however since Google Map Maker closed, I felt somewhat disenfranchised with their mapping system, It became a lot harder to edit their maps and the experience is just not as good as Map Maker was.

screenshot showing local shops and residential estate on google maps
A Google Maps screen capture of my neighborhood.

Then one day I discovered OpenStreetMaps and the simplicity of their map editor filled the hole in my heart that Map Maker left. I found that Open Street Maps iD editor was both friendly to use and better than Map Maker, the iD editor had a much more intuitive interface and the wiki made the transition generally easy and enjoyable.

screenshot showing local shops and residential estate on open street map
An Open Street Maps screen capture of my neighborhood.

As with any change, there was a little bit of a learning curve but the wiki was informative and allowed me to transition from my amateur interest in the topic of cartography into a full-blown contributor to the eco-system. I also have started using the JOSM editor a little and have found that its tools have made contributing much easier for bulk operations and mainly use the iD editor for tidy-up or casual map corrections or contributions.


Why Open Street Map?

Contributing to a closed system like Google maps was never really a problem for me using my local knowledge to correct open times and add photos to locations, but once I discovered Open Street Maps, I sort of feel like there’s no going back. There are a lot of reasons I like Open Street Map,

  • Its Open, the maps can be used in any application, the license only requires that OSM is credited when your application is public. (Copyleft Attribution-Share-Alike)
  • Its used in a lot of applications that I use already, updating the map on OSM will improve those applications too.  🙂
  • Editing polygons seem to be a lot easier than Google Map Editor.
  • Using an Open system would be preferable over something that in the future could potentially become a closed source or paid for.

I intend to update my local area, as Open Street Maps relies on community contributions it is apparent that it has not been updated in a while. Watch this space.

Woodmansy, Beverley UK Weather Current Temperature and Humidity

Hey Thanks for checking out my project, or discovering it organically!

Whats the weather?

This page shows the output of my outdoor box DHT22 Temperature sensor, powered by two 100w solar panels it can sometimes run out of power, especially late at night on miserable days. The data is updated in 15-minute intervals based on three samples. The data is monitored and transmitted from an esp8266 to my web-server, which is then logged in a google spreadsheet and then published here, only the last 500 entries are kept in the chart, which makes the whole chart 15 hours long.

The data on this chart can be better viewed here -> Link

The data on this chart can be better viewed here -> Link

If you would like historical data, please contact me.

Reliable internet connections. Are they a reality in Britain yet?

Most would say no. However, the recent increase in consumer spending on reliable mobile and the domestic internet has led the development of new infrastructure, innovation, and government subsidy. The increased value of fast and affordable internet is no doubt due to the increase in cord-cutting and streaming options available to the consumer.

However, there are still issues in rural broadband areas where internet connections are limited, spotty or oversubscribed and need infrastructure investment in order to improve. The biggest issue could be the degradation and limited ability of domestic subscribers to ensure a reliable connection, many using dated routers, cables and positioning WiFi access points where there are many obstacles such as walls, corners, and doors making the signal weaker and less effective and often situated at one side of their home, rather than in the centre or where the WiFi is being used. Many new routers are combating this problem by using more antennas and user-friendly configuration wizards or combating the problem entirely by using pre-configured settings from the supplier or ISP.

Another problem may be the proximity to the exchange, as most subscribers in rural areas find their connection vastly slower compared to that of locations nearby, once again showing a performance drop that could be improved by moving away from copper to more effective methods of transmission, such as fiber.

It is however clear that the infrastructure as a whole has vastly improved and is much more capable as it was, mobile network connectivity has also improved to handle the data needs of modern apps and streaming websites as per the March report.

The issue as the report outlines is, however, meeting the demand of mobile business subscribers and providing affordable internet options to consumers. In my opinion, the use of ADSL2+ and DOCSIS 3.1 is not as much of a step in the right direction as fiber, even if it means limiting the speed available to the subscriber to segment their pricing structure.

Source, written by me in 2017.

 

Hull University Timetable to Google Calendar

Getting your iCal Link for your Timetable

To add your Hull University Timetable iCal feed to Google Calendar, or equivalent calendar to use on your phone or other devices copy the link below,

webcal://calendars.hull.ac.uk/tcs/Stucal.asp?p1=201700500

replacing the 201700500 with your student ID found on your lanyard.

Adding your Scientia Timetable to Google Calendar

Then open Google Calendar and click the plus symbol highlighted in red like below.

Google Calendar add timetable calendar

Then click From URL and paste your link in. It should appear almost instantly. You should then see the new calendar appear that you can then set up notifications and colors to suit your needs.

Adding your Canvas Calendar

You can also add your canvas calendar which has your deadlines on by going to this link and then adding the link in the bottom right the same way we did above, you should now have all of your calendars in one place!


Note that this does not synchronize your mail.hull.ac.uk calendar which you may receive emails with invitations through, and you can’t because you will see this message that prevents you.

outlook cant share calendar out of network

 

 

I am not associated with Hull University, they’re good guys.

Adding a Virtual Host to Apache

Preamble

The beauty of hosting your own web server and having root access to your machine is the ability to run whatever you want on it. One great example of this is running virtual hosts in apache, which allows you to run multiple websites on the same server. What you can run as a virtual host is fairly unlimited so long as the clients can resolve the address to your web server, be it URL, IP address or even special use domain names if you so desire (though the last one I do not recommend).

When setting up Virtual Hosts it is important to realize that as websites will run on a single server, If one website goes down, its very likely that the others will go with it. Additionally, when a server is not configured correctly or securely when a client connects to the server they may not see what you intend or may see the default apache page.

Place your website’s files in the folder /var/www/root/infinityflame.co.uk replacing my domain name with yours and setting the correct permission on the directory.

Method

There are multiple ways of configuring apache virtual hosts, such as IP-Based Virtual Hosts, which allow you to apply different rules to connections based on the originating or outgoing interface. And the most popular and most used method of Name-Based Virtual Hosts.

Adding a virtual host to apache is very simple once you get used to it. In the folder/etc/apache2, there are the following files, or there should be; sites-enabled, sites-available, mods-enabled, mods-available, conf-enabled and conf-available. The folder for adding virtual hosts in is sites-available. You can also add .conf files to sites-enabled, but in doing so using a2ensite and a2dissite (commands used to enable and disable virtual hosts) no longer work as intended.

Navigate to  the folder/etc/apache2/sites-available then make a file called the name of your first website, such as infinityflame.co.uk.conf or dashboard.infinityflame.co.uk.conf as an example, you can technically call these files whatever you desire, but as you add more websites this folder can become cluttered and hard to navigate if not named efficiently. You can make these files using the touch command or nano. Once you have created the file, open it with your desired text editor and enter the following, replacing the necessary options with the ones you need.

<VirtualHost *:80>

DocumentRoot /var/www/root/infinityflame.co.uk
<Directory "/var/www/root/infinityflame.co.uk">
Options FollowSymLinks
AllowOverride All
allow from all
Options +Indexes
</Directory>
ServerName infinityflame.co.uk
ServerAdmin aidan@infinityflame.co.uk
ServerAlias www.infinityflame.co.uk

CustomLog /var/log/apache2/infinityflame.co.uk-access.log combined
ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/infinityflame.co.uk-error.log

</VirtualHost>

Once you have replaced the options with the ones you used, such as the DocumentRoot, ServerName, ServerAdmin, ServerAlias, CustomLog and ErrorLog. You can save it and start to enable it by doing a2ensite infinityflame.co.uk.conf and then service apache2 reload to reload apache, you should then be able to navigate to your website in a browser, so long as the registered address is pointing to the correct server.

Adding More Virtual Hosts

Once you have added one, its time to add another, then enable that one using the same command, you should now be able to navigate to the appropriate website from the browser automatically. If the server doesn’t have an appropriate virtual host server name or a user connects via an IP Address that hasn’t been defined they will connect to the first one defined in the output of apachectl -S. Additionally, if a user connects to a port that isn’t 80 they will not be able to connect to the Apache server as the server won’t be listening on the port.

Note that there should now be symlinks to the websites you added in the sites-enabled folder that go back to the files we made earlier.

Adding SSL

As websites move to secure areas it is important to have SSL on most modern websites. Fear not, although this requires some extra configuration it is nothing that we can’t handle. Open your website’s configuration file again and add a new virtual host below,

<VirtualHost *:443>

SSLEngine on
SSLProtocol all -SSLv2 -SSLv3
SSLHonorCipherOrder on
SSLCipherSuite "ECDH+AESGCM:DH+AESGCM:ECDH+AES256:DH+AES256:ECDH+AES128:DH+AES:ECDH+3DES:DH+3DES:RSA+AESGCM:RSA+AES:RSA+3DES:!aNULL:!MD5:!DSS"
SSLCertificateFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/infinityflame.co.uk/cert.pem
SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/infinityflame.co.uk/privkey.pem
SSLCertificateChainFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/infinityflame.co.uk/fullchain.pem
DocumentRoot /var/www/root/infinityflame.co.uk
<Directory "/var/www/root/infinityflame.co.uk">
Options FollowSymLinks
AllowOverride All
allow from all
Options +Indexes
</Directory>
ServerName infinityflame.co.uk
ServerAdmin aidan@infinityflame.co.uk
ServerAlias www.infinityflame.co.uk

CustomLog /var/log/apache2/infinityflame.co.uk-access.log combined
ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/infinityflame.co.uk-error.log

</VirtualHost>

Replacing the configuration options relevant to the ones you use, as I use LetsEncrypt’s certbot the configuration is made easier by having a standard location for all of the Certificate and Key files that you can copy if you do too, replacing the domain with your own.

Removing or Disabling a Website

To remove a website or disable it use a2dissite infinityflame.co.uk.conf and then reload apache using service apache2 reload. This removes the symlink from sites-enabled so that the website is not loaded on startup.

Growing Tomatoes to harvest in the same year!

Over my exams I began growing tomatoes from seed and would monitor their progress as a creative outlet as I took breaks from study, the seeds I used for my first batch were gardeners delight, as they seemed the best fit for my plant bed, and with it being February it seemed the optimal time to grow them, as the harvest months would be July to October, I decided to try to get a first year batch by accelerating the growth of the seedlings as much as possible.

To start with, I used a simple tray filled with topsoil which in hindsight was a bad idea, as it would have been better to use potting soil or something with more nutrition as I believe that In using topsoil it made the plants have thin roots and wispy stems at the base of the plant. The first few days were good, keeping the first batch damp germinated the seeds quickly.

Then, once the seeds started to grow, It was time to accelerate growth and they grew much quicker and healthier with a consistent outdoor sun.

 

Once they became too big to fit under the window, I moved them to the bed, I moved the first batch, and then the second a few weeks later, when I was sure that they could survive the outdoors. Sorry for the bad picture, but it’s the only one I had taken. I also gave them some plant food which you can see is the little balls to the edge of the plant.

Overall this year’s crops should be good tomato wise, and I’ll keep you posted on the results. I think some of my biggest mistakes were over-watering and over feeding the plants made some of the leaves edges yellow and dead, which quickly disappeared after they were moved into their new permanent home but definitely something I wish I had been a little easier going with them.

The tomatoes are now secured in their own plant bed, which previously was the home of some unsuccessful corn and lettuce.

 

October update; Tada!

tomatoes having grown and fruited

Aspects a business should consider in corporate strategy

Corporate Strategy

 

The way a company’s managers should manage a company should largely be down to the business plan. However there are often external factors limiting a companies business, they may choose to solely benefit shareholders, but practically and legally they must provide some benefit to their employees and their customers to remain socially responsible and have a strong positive public relationship to remain profitable. An umbrella corporation may often have to make strategic decisions to combat potential problems well in the future. In the show Silicon Valley (external) the senior venture capitalist spends a lot of his time studying sesame seed markets in Myanmar and Brazil in order to profit in the future, this example (although fictional and a little overplayed) is a small look into the world of ensuring that profits are maintained and some of the crucial detail that must be taken into account.

The ability to assess the viability of consolidating corporate strategy is not only about turning a profit, but is also about financial and shareholder relations, the capability and flexibility of dynamic and slow moving markets, the technical ability of the employees and manufacturing capabilities as well as cost, the people and manpower involved and the risks undertaken at every stage.

Ensuring that a business has a strategic plan ensures that the company has direction and vision, companies that fail to innovate or differentiate could get left behind or never reach their true potential. A business must define the scope of its operations, how it defines its goals, then how it plans to achieve them, and finally, evaluate. Companies that fail to find a suitable corporate strategy could be left behind and not identify important challenges ahead of time and their current states failings such as their branding or vision.

Aspects a business should consider in corporate strategy.

  • Brand appearance, awareness.
  • Internal Culture
  • Market Segmentation
  • Product, Pricing, Placing, Promotion
  • After sales
  • Research and Development
  • Growth Strategy
  • Human Resources
  • Product and Market Innovation
  • Technology

There are many techniques that businesses use to maintain a strategic advantage, such as Porters strategic matrix (external) and Ansoff’s matrix.

Factors Influencing Demand

A Demand and Supply Graph

Demand and Supply Graph

Factors Influencing Demand

This article serves to supplement the article Influences for Supply and Demand, that I wrote a while ago. For a more general overview of supply and demand, I suggest visiting there first.

Demand has many factors that influence a market, such as;-

  • Changes to the prices to substitute products, such as cheaper products available online or at discount stores could reduce the sales of a premium product or product range.
  • Changes to the availability of complementary goods or changes in the price of complementary goods, such as two large luxury opposing ice cream companies.
  • Disruptions to the supply chain of competitors, such that their prices or other aspects change.
  • The incomes of customers could rise, causing customers to choose superior or premium products, similarly, they could fall and choose less or inferior products, Especially prominent for Elastic products or Luxury Items.
  • Advertising could increase consumer interest or make the product more noticeable to customers or potential customers.
  • Branding or PR could be used more prominently or advertised.
    • Recently companies have opted for using social marketing or guerilla marketing, as it can be more successful or noticeable since ad-blockers and the fall of cable TV and TV Advertising have made it harder to reach consumers.
  • Advertising or Branding of other competitors products could also potentially boost your own profits, especially if the product is generic or seasonal.
  • Changes to consumer incomes.

The demand for a product or service may also depend on the demographics of the product, if it is aimed at older people and the area is a student town, finding customers may be more difficult than other locations.

External Shocks, such as the economy or new technologies that make the product or service obsolete could also negatively affect the products demand if a business fails to innovate or adapt to change.