Plume WiFi Review

After my less than great experience trying out Netgear's Orbi wireless mesh product, I continued looking around for a better home wireless networking option.

I checked out the second generation Eero, but it wanted to replace my router, didn't support an OpenVPN server, and was going to cost $100/year ongoing for cloud-based services (malware protection, parental controls) that I want to manage locally. ASUS's HiveSpot aka Lyra offering looked interesting and would go nicely with my existing ASUS router, but the reviews I could find indicated deal-breaking performance problems. Google's Wifi option requires a persistent connection to their systems, doesn't support an OpenVPN server, and wants to replace my router to make use of most of its features.

Ubiquity's Unifi product line comes highly recommended by a number of people I trust. But as I explored what it can do and what I would need to do to manage it, I felt like I was crossing fully into the realm of "enterprise network administrator" instead of "home network user." Enabling something as standard as IPv6 included steps like "Copy the config.gateway.json file to the UniFi controller and force a provision on the USG." Not that big of a deal, but I've spent enough time doing command line management of network device config files professionally that I'm not super excited about doing it at home any more.

Then I found the Plume Wifi offering. I didn't find a lot of reviews about it, but the ones I did read indicated it had an innovative approach to providing an "advanced network topology," great speeds and a focus on doing wireless really well instead of trying to be an everything home networking appliance. That's what I wanted! They also had a detailed-but-beautiful website, a helpful blog (despite being on Medium) and some growing Twitter buzz. Once I confirmed that they'll let you try it out for 60 days with a money-back guarantee (assuming no damage and original packaging), I ordered a set of six units.

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Review: Netgear Orbi wireless mesh router

To date I've remained a loyal user of an ASUS router at my home (despite some early bumps in the road). After moving to a larger house earlier this year and finding some spots with degraded or unusable wi-fi, I decided it was time to explore the latest offerings in wireless mesh routers. I was drawn to the idea of having comprehensive coverage managed by a unified setup (instead of using extenders) and was also excited to see if anyone had disrupted the space of home network management.

The system I tried first, Netgear's Orbi Router & Satellite Extender system, definitely offers seamless wireless coverage, but holds on to so many of the problems of traditional home network router management that I'm sending it back.

I'd been researching different vendor offerings and had narrowed it down to products from Netgear (Orbi), Eero, and Ubiquiti (Amplifi or Unifi). This Wirecutter article seemed to reach out from the Internet gods and speak directly to me with definitive advice about what to buy:

For the tech-savvy, Netgear’s Orbi is the only mesh kit we tested that provides the features of a high-end router, from port forwarding to static routing, along with plenty of Ethernet ports on both units; it’s also one of the few that don’t require an Internet connection to set up or control your network. Orbi is the mesh kit that’s most like a router-and-extender combo, without the drawbacks that usually come with that setup.

I'm tech-savvy! I want a high-end router with advanced features! I don't want to depend on an Internet connection or "cloud" services to manage my network! I don't want drawbacks! I was sold, and bought the RBK50 kit (one base router unit and one satellite extender unit - not truly a mesh system as much as the beginnings of a hub/spoke system, but who's keeping track?).

The unboxing experience was quite pleasant and everything was clearly labeled, though I may have said a colorful word or two when I saw how large each these two units are - you'd think I'd bought a new food processor or something.

My disappointment came soon after.

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Recovering ASUS router firmware without Windows

Shark at the National AquariumIf you own an ASUS router and you brick it while trying to upgrade the firmware or some other action, you'll probably find documentation saying you need to run a Windows-only firmware restoration program to undo this damage.

While this is apparently the only officially supported method for restoring firmware (the alternative being to ship the router to ASUS for repair, a 10+ day process), I found with some exploring that the Windows program is likely just a glorified tftp client, and that you can restore firmware using some more standard, non-Windows tools.

I'm listing below the steps I had to use today after trying to upgrade my RT-AC66U device from firmware version 3.0.0.4.266 to 3.0.0.4.270.  (The release notes for the latter indicate a fix for a "live update related bug" which is what I suspect I encountered when I first tried to do the upgrade via the web GUI.)

I'm a Mac user, but these steps should work for other non-Windows operating systems such as Linux. It hopefully goes without saying that you should follow these steps at your own risk, and I make no claims or warranty about the outcome; you could end up worse off than you are now.  You could set your router on fire. You could end up killing another version of yourself living in an alternate universe.  Be careful.

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Upcoming conference for Indiana bloggers

Blog Indiana 2008Are you a blogger in Indiana? Are you interested in learning more about blogs and blogging? Consider attending the upcoming Blog Indiana 2008 conference in Indianapolis on August 16th and 17th, 2008. The event is a 2-day blogging and social media conference that aims to promote education, innovation and collaboration among Indiana’s fast-growing blogging community. The lineup of sessions looks great (even if it didn't include me as a presenter and panelist, and even if it wasn't sponsored in part by Summersault). You can learn about blogging basics, legal issues, corporate blogging, monetization, podcasting and videocasting, analytics, and much more.

The cool part is that the conference is only $49 for both days, and even cooler, I've got a 15% discount for you if you use this link to register. If you're interested in blogging and social media at any level, I hope you can make it.

Solution for Google Treasure Hunt "zipfile" question

You may or may not have been following the Google Treasure Hunt competition, a puzzle contest designed to test your knowledge of Computer Science, networking, and low-level UNIX trivia (as described on the Google blog). It's also a way for them to find potential engineers to be assimilated --er, hired. I took one of the questions for a spin today, and thought I'd post my methodology to solve it. It probably wasn't the fastest way, but it worked for me; if anyone has suggestions for improvements, let me know! Here's the puzzle:
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One Day, Many Costumes

IMG_2282.JPGIt was a day where I've worn so many different costumes and had such a wide range of experiences, I know I'll never have another like it, and it just feels good to be alive.

Early Morning: black pants with dark blue dress shirt. Activities included helping track down someone selling stolen dogs and cats in New York, doing tech support for web hosting, setting up meetings for next week.

Late Morning: black pants with crazy silk vacation shirt, to perform a magic/juggling show with friends at Girls, Inc. Activities included talking to a ghost, making things vanish into thin air and then reappear elsewhere, feeling really good as an awesome group of kids and adults laugh and ooh and ahh.

Afternoon: black pants with black t-shirt. Activities included launching a new website, testing and delivering two other websites under development, laughing hysterically at some of the images on lolcats, cleaning up my inboxes (virtual and real).

Early Evening: black suit, white shirt, silver tie. Activities included eating from a buffet at a fancy dinner, hearing about some inspiring forms of servant leadership in my community, shaking hands and talking about the future.

Later Evening: tan shorts and a beat up t-shirt. Activities include tending the garden, sighing at the piles around the house, admiring the dusk, blogging.

Tired of social networking sites

At lunch today we were talking about all the social networking sites that have popped up on the Intertubes over the recent years. Mark and I sounded a little curmudgeonly about it, noting that we've long since been ignoring invitations to join the latest fad in making virtual connections to the rest of the world. First I was on BBSes back in the day. They I joined some mailing lists. Then there was Friendster, which kept losing my profile and whose software sucked. And then there was Orkut, which I signed up for because it was Googly but I wasn't popular enough to do anything useful with. And that's when I sort of gave up. MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, Linked In and all the rest can call me or send a representative to do lunch if they really want me. Except Myspace - puke.

Part of it is probably the sense that I'd rather be spending time strengthening ties in my real-world community than in an online one. Another part is just not caring. But most importantly, it seems the trend is such that soon we'll have one social networking site per each person with an Internet connection, and we'll be back where we started. I've got enough passwords to remember as it is, okay?

But it is funny to me when the networking sites scrape information off of my website in an attempt to make me look like a member. Like Spoke, which just did this without asking. Unfortunately, they get some significant things wrong, e.g. listing Earlham College President Doug Bennett as the president of my company, Summersault. To be clear, Doug has not left his position as the president of an internationally known liberal arts college to serve as President of a website development firm.

If he is looking for that kind of position with us, we're open to, um, networking with him...without the help of a website.