Saturday, March 30, 2013

. . . GamerScore (G) and MyAchievements

The New Xbox LIVE MyRewards Program has arrived 8 years later...
This new addition to the Xbox LIVE Online Community caught me totally by surprise - in fact if I were a grunt in one of my favorite war games out on patrol I would have been shot in the butt by a sniper from five miles away in a windstorm, because the overall stun-effect was so great that I just sort of sat there like a rock as I tried to absorb this.

What am I talking about? Well to fully explain my reaction and the events I am about to relate to you we have to jump into the Wayback Machine and zip back to late 2005, and an event that Microsoft decided to call the “Xbox 360 Zero-Hour Launch Event.”

You have to understand that the launch of the Xbox 360, which was a seventh generation gaming console and only the second games console to be created by Microsoft was a major deal. Major.

Not only was Microsoft about to launch their new console, they were doing it at an invitation-only party in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and far from being a press-only event, the tiny company from Redmond, Washington was inviting gamers as well as the media to the event, which was really Microsoft's version of a Rave, minus the Rave Drugs and sleazy guys named Guido and Jerry who can get you in for a price...
Access Control - if you were caught without one they buried you in the desert...
For gamers, access to the event was by prize only - that is to say that Microsoft made the vast majority of the non-VIP, non-Media, regular tickets available via a number of contests that were hosted by a very broad selection of games-related and video-game-focused websites (some of which no longer exist) that included the following: (
G4 (
Game Informer (
GamePro* (RiP: November 30, 2011 -- site no longer exists even for an obit page)
GameSpot (
GameSpy* (RiP: Feb 21, 2013 -- Obit page still up at (
MSN Games** (now at* (RiP: August 17, 2012 -- survives as a fan-driven set of chat forums)
UGO* (RiP: Feb 21, 2013 -- obit page still up at (The official website for Microsoft's Xbox Gaming Division)

* This website and its company no longer exists.
** As a result of the ever-changing landscape that is the games industry and the news media beats that cover it, this website has changed considerably since that time in 2005 when the gaming world collectively held its breath and prayed to win a ticket to the Zero-Hour Par-TAY!

Have Site, Contest Varies
While the official announcement said “a total of 3,000 lucky gamers will join VIPs from the U.S. 'Hex 168' and European 'Origen' campaigns to be the first gamers in the world to fully experience all that Xbox 360 has to offer,” among other things, depending upon the website you chose as your every hopeful access source, that either meant filling in an online entry form for a random drawing (curse you luck!) or the reward of tickets based upon your activity in the sites forums...

If your significant other was a gamer and you won a ticket to the event there were to chances that they could go as well, the first chance came from the announcement that the first 360 eligible entries whose name and contact information was registered would automatically receive an invitation for two to attend the awesomely special Microsoft "Xbox 360: Zero Hour" Rave event that was to be held at some super-secret location in Southern California, and the second chance came in the form of a random drawing for the winners of the 3000 tickets that were to be given away on the above websites, with precisely 1140 very lucky winners to be selected from among all eligible entries that Microsoft received to ALSO win an invitation for two to attend the event, and you were so getting laid if you won.

If you do the math, in addition to the estimated 350 Media Passes that were distributed to the Fourth Estate, and the estimated 500 or so VIP passes that were distributed by Microsoft to the peeps they wanted to show the love for, that worked out to a potential party containing:

0350 Reporters and Journalists...
0500 Microsoft Love Children...
0360 Lucky Spouses / Boyfriends / Girlfriends / Significant Others / BFF's from Drawing I...
1140 Lucky Spouses / Boyfriends / Girlfriends / Significant Others / BFF's from Drawing II...
3000 Winners of the Primary Ticket Giveaway via the above websites...
???? Passes given to Major Nelson and his friends from Xbox da Team...

So if you add all of that up with tricky guestimation, the number of attendees for this Dance in the Desert was something north of 5,350 warm dancing thirsty human bodies whose only desire was to fondle, prod, poke, and otherwise get busy with a cadre of Xbox 360's to be featured at said Zero-Hour Event!
How you knew for sure that you were very close to arriving...
The Event Was...
Pretty freaking awesome.

Bear in mind that in addition to the huge number of gaming stations where attendees could experience the Xbox 360 for the first time in groups of four, the live entertainment that did not include the crowd as entertainers but should have, and the around-the-clock gaming, it was a sort of Woodstock for Gamers...

Not only that but Microsoft arranged for Big Box retailer Best Buy to set up a temporary store so that attendees would not miss-out on the chance to buy the new console with accessories because they were attending the event -- remember that the rest of the world was patiently waiting in line at, well, pretty much everywhere, for the clock to strike Midnight and the new console to go on sale!

So yeah, it was pretty cool.

There were vendors and merch booths, and even a plethora of food kiosks where attendees could purchase fuel for their tummies (the Fourth Estate did not have to pay for its food, just saying), and there were a bunch of give-aways at the top of each hour featuring, among other things, special controllers and the much-desired Zero Hour Event Commemorative Xbox 360 console faceplates to help remind attendees that they were actually present at the event in case the Woodstock syndrome kicked in and they forgot...

The point behind all of this is that the launch of the Xbox 360 was a big deal, but that is not the story that I told you all of the above to lead into, that is a completely different story entirely! And here it is!
T-Shirt? We don't no noting about no T-Shirt!
The Big Story
So at the Zero-Hour Event among the noise and the clutter and the gamer girls who kept inssited that this was Zero Hour and not Mardi Gras, and hence there would be no shirt lifting even IF we happened to have a box of Mardi Gras beats to give away - some people are just killjoys it seems (see obligatory Mardi Gras shirt-free illustration below) - there was a relatively quiet area set aside for the press that was ostensibly referred to as the Media Lounge and it was there that the conversation that is at the heart of this story took place.

The Zero-Hour event was held on the grounds of what we were told was originally a Cold War testing facility built (or maybe it was rebuilt) for Lockheed at which they tested all sorts of secret spy stuff secret airplanes that were invisible secrets and secret stuff like that...

The madness that was the event was only a few hundred feet away but it may as well have been in another universe because we were burned out and sharing the large hamper of sandwiches and Gatorade that one of the games journo's wives had packed under the assumption that there would be a lot of his people there (fellow games journos) who may need sustenance in addition to, well, you get the idea.

As far as industry events go it was a good one - there was plenty of excitement and verve, but the crowds were manageable, and though it felt like it had the same level of energy as E3, unlike E3 there did not seem to be any shortage of games or consoles to play them on and as a result when we were not talking about the new console, we were playing on it.

So during a much needed break we sat around eating and chatting on some beanbag chairs provided by Microsoft, and somehow the subject came up about this new GamerScore System that Microsoft introduced for Xbox LIVE.

Now you almost certainly know what GamerScore and Achievements are but back then we did not. If you somehow are not aware of what that is, in a nutshell GamerScore (G) is an Achievements system on Xbox LIVE for pretty much all Xbox games for the Xbox 360 except for Indie titles that measures the number of Achievement points accumulated by a gamer in the games that they play on their Xbox 360 while logged into their GamerTag.

The Achievements are awarded for completing game-specific challenges, accomplishments, and sometimes levels, collecting X number of an in-game object, visiting X number of in-game locations, you get the idea. Each Achievement has a set number of GamerScore attached to it - typically the most common range is 10G, 25G, 50G and 100G though I assure you there are few enough of the 100G sort that we often wish for more.

Anyway the important thing for you to take away from this is that the GamerScore system was all new to us at the time, since the original Xbox did not have anything remotely resembling it, so you can probably imagine that in addition to semi-accurate information floating around at the event, there was also a lot of inaccurate information and just plain fantasy as well.

While noshing on sandwiches that not only traveled well from their home in San Diego that were rather unique in their own right - one of the types I split with another journo was made from Avocado and Black Olives and there were packets of salt and salad dressing taped to the baggie with the sandwich with instructions on how to apply it and how much to apply, and there was another type that I had half of that I can only describe as a Pizza sandwich but without all the mess...

So while we are eating these most excellent sandies and drinking ice cold yellow Gatorade from a well stocked cooler that weighed a ton and took two journos to hall out from the parking lot, someone who shall remain nameless in our sandwich and Gatorade circle suggested that they had heard that Microsoft was giving away prizes like free games and accessories to gamers who reached specific GamerScore target levels.

These things were like Gold man.  Like Gold!
Well this would have been a great deal if it were true - but it wasn't - and most of us did not believe him anyway, but still, would have been freaking great!

Slowly Coming Out of Shock
Tonight as I took a break from a Game Walkthrough and Guide I am working on I was thumbing through the menus on my Xbox when something that I saw on the GAMES menu caught my eye - it was the image of a man wearing a crown with the notation “Assassin’s Creed 3 Add-Ons” below it.

Before I could click on that link, which I assure you I was going to, I noticed this odd very crimson red Xbox controller that looked, well, odd. At first glance I thought it maybe was the new Xbox's controller, and Microsoft was offering a partial reveal for the console that they will be unveiling at this year's E3 in June, but the note below it was a rather cryptic “You Achieved Now Receive” so that probably was not it...

But I clicked on it anyway.

And revealed a colorful divided presentation screen whose title declared “Xbox LIVE Rewards - Unlock MyAchievements” and my brain froze. It was really clear that what I was looking at was exactly what I thought I was looking at.

On the left side of the screen was a block that declared:

“Get your free Rewards Membership now. Then check your email for a welcome message within the next 3 days.

“Please visit for additional details.

“Register Now”


There were three columns filling the middle-to-right side that showed the graduated unlocks that were part of the program:

Unlock at G3000 - 9999 CONTENDER: At this level unlock a special gift during your birthday month.

Unlock at G10000 - 24999 CHAMPION: At this level receive a special gift during your birthday month and a 1% rebate on your Xbox LIVE Marketplace purchases every month.

Unlock at G25000 - LEGEND: At this level receive a special gift during your birthday month and a 2% rebate on your Xbox LIVE Marketplace purchases every month.

Okay well, yeah, that is pretty cool I said to myself. And it is recognition of (G) which is also very cool, but what is this special gifts they speak of? I wondered.

So I visited the URL
And discovered that there was a lot more to this whole Xbox LIVE Rewards MyAchievement thing than the announcement presentation page thingy suggests!

First there is a link to a video on the left that explains it in more detail, then on the right there is a link that details this month's special feature offer - which includes special virtual “punchcards” you complete by playing games and unlocking Achievements, for which you get some excellent rewards like Microsoft Points you can use to buy games from the Marketplace!

This was almost exactly what had been speculated about in 2005, except that it is 2013, so OK, it took them 8 years to get there but still, how freaking cool is that?!

VIP Exclusives
It seems that completing the Virtual Punchcards each month unlocks something called VIP Exclusives, which if I am reading this correctly, range from exclusive items for your Avatar, extra months added to your Gold Subscription, and free Microsoft Points...

The details for the April 2013 Punchcards are:

Punchcard 1: Eat. Sleep. Game
Game on! Play any combination of Xbox LIVE Arcade games for a total of five hours to get a punch. Complete all four punches to receive the Reward!

Reward = Exclusive Avatar Item.

Punchcard 2: Collect Games, Get Gold
Now's the time to add to your Arcade game collection! Purchase any Arcade game* from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace to earn a punch. Get all four punches to nab the Reward!

Reward = 1-Month Xbox LIVE Gold Membership.

*Xbox LIVE Arcade game purchases must be 400 Microsoft Points or more.

Punchcard 3: Spend More, Get More
Our biggest Arcade fans get the biggest Reward! For every 800 Microsoft Points you spend on Arcade games, you'll get a punch. Earn all four punches to get the Reward!

Reward = 800 Microsoft Points.

Okay that's still pretty cool...

It's not exactly free-free but you know that at a minimum most gamers will be trying to get that Avatar Item just for the bragging rights.

The new or perhaps expanded (not sure about that) stats page is interesting, but seeing what the VIP exclusives will be each month is probably going to be the most frequent use for the MyAchievements pages...
You needed food? They got that.  Games? They got that!  Clothes? They got hoodies...

So There I Was
After selecting the Program Registration Gamer Pic a brief notice popped up informing me that there can be up to a 96-hour delay between the submission of my registration request and my actual registration for the program...

Then the screen changed, and now shows a big white pop-up notice that popped up following the download of the Gamer Picture that automagically registers the gamer who downloads it via LIVE that reads:

Your active and pending downloads appear here.

Recently completed downloads will appear in My Games and in the System Music Player and System Video Player apps.

To download new content, check the Xbox stores and media apps available in the Xbox Dashboard.

The reason that the page is still on the screen after five minutes is due to the shock I am still feeling and a feeling of horror that is deep and paralyzing that is prompted by the irrational fear that I will wake up and learn that it was only a fever-induced dream or hallucination caused by the antihistamines I am taking due to the nasty chest cold I am presently experiencing. That cannot happen, right? Right?!

So it looks like I have to wait three days or so before I can get a better picture of how this will work, since the details pages and tracking pages are not accessible until then...   Sigh.

Monday, March 25, 2013

. . . when the law goes too far.

We live in a world in which placing the blame is often more important than fixing the problem, and based upon the events that are unfolding in Western Pennsylvania and its border state, Ohio, over the past week, the case of Butler County v. Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby may end up being a classic example of how the powers of law are often abused by small-minded officers of the court bent on personal revenge.

That is one way to look at the situation, but if claims made by the Sowersby family are found to merit closer examination, what this may actually be is another case of Corporate Greed and the abuse of the law by underhanded Corporate Stooges seeking to possess information that clearly does not belong to them, which is just the sort of activities that the Occupy Movement has been trying to warn the world about since its founding in September, 2011.

Punxsutawney Phil facing possible Capital Punishment

According to Butler County (Ohio) Prosecuting Attorney Michael T. Gmoser, he awoke on the morning of 22 March 2013 to a cold and blustery day and, not content to embrace the suck and live through another cold day in Ohio, resolved to make a difference and do something about it. 

Reasoning that he was put in charge of the Butler County Prosecutor's Office specifically to look out for and protect not just the interests of the citizens of that county but, if we stretch the point, the rest of Ohio, and also to protect them from the knowing actions of criminal scammers and scams of all types and sizes. 
Prosecuting Attorney Gmoser has been accused of abusing the law.

That realization sparked a series of thoughts in his mind as he awoke and went through the process of completing his morning ablutions.  According to a highly placed and very reliable source who wishes to remain nameless, the decision on whether or not to indict and charge a defendant is often made either in bed, in the shower, on the toilet, or during long lunches.

Gmoser is portrayed as a family man with a hands-on approach to every aspect of life, from raising children to prosecuting the bad guys in court, and likes to use anecdotes drawn from his everyday life as he addresses the Jury in closing arguments.  

The Anatomy of an Indictment

Gmoser is rumored to be in the process of creating three new motions and a discovery document to file with the court in the case of Butler County v. Sowerby, with sources claiming that he will be filing a request for funds to pay three expert witnesses to support a possible added charge of Interfering with Air Traffic Controllers, which while it is a stretch, could force the defendant to hire at least three new attorneys in order to defend the charge.

That is not an unusual tactic for Prosecutors today; adding additional charges often forces a defendant to seek a plea agreement due to the added expenses of defending themselves in multiple jurisdictions and courts.

His decision to begin the long and involved process of bringing charges against Sowerby was no different than the same decision on other cases, according to a source in his office.  "You have to have resolve and pretty good legal skills," the source advised.  "Plus being really pissed off at the defendant helps.

The charges that Gmoser intends to file include fraud and deception, and though such charges rarely include application of the death penalty, Gmoser has made it crystal clear that he intends to seek the death penalty in this case, reasoning that the circumstances of Sowerby's ongoing criminal enterprise warrants that level of punishment.

"Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause people to believe that Spring would come early," the indictment reads.  

Phil exercising his 1st Amendment Rights to Predict Weather
Concerned about the broad-reaching consequences the alleged fraud may have, from the financial risks that are posed to businesses and investors who rely upon the predictions made with respect to the arrival and the nature of Spring for investing, for the process of determining when to begin construction projects, and a host of other large value projects, Gmoser points out that the scammer he is going after in this indictment poses an ongoing and serious risk to society.

"He's already serving a life sentence behind bars, as you know," Gmoser told reporters from television station WXIX. Convinced that he intentionally misled the nation, Gmoser feels that the only right action is to apply the most extreme punishment allowed by law.

"I woke up this morning and the wind was blowing, the snow was flying, the temperatures were falling, and I said 'Punxsutawney, you let us down,' " the prosecutor told WXIX.

Who is this Criminal Meteorologist?
Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby, of 301 East Mahoning St., Punxsutawney PA, is by all accounts a quiet law-abiding family man and resident of Punxsutawney, a borough in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. 

He has no criminal record, and other than his hobby as an amateur meteorologist, holds no professional licenses, bonds, or permits according to our inquiry with the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's Office.  

According to a statement made by his wife, Phyllis Sowerby, who declined to be interviewed by the press, Phil is being targeted by Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 mega-corporation Procter & Gamble, who she is convinced is using Gmoser as a legal stooge in its efforts to put pressure on Sowerby to reveal the source for the “elixir of life” that is allegedly behind his unusually long life -- the amateur meteorologist is rumored to be celebrating his 125th birthday this year.

“Proctor & Gamble want the formula and they will stop at nothing to get it,” Phyllis Sowerby is rumored to have said in an interpreted statement to local police.

The police in Punxsutawney appear to be taking the claims seriously, and have relocated Sowerby and his family to a more secure safehouse located adjacent to the Punxsutawney Police Station at 301 E. Mahoning St., Punxsutawney, PA. 

The safehouse is wired for both sound and video, with a number of closed-circuit security cameras that feed monitors at the Police Station that are now being manned around the clock  out of concern for Phil's safety. 

‘‘Right next to where Phil stays is the police station,’’ Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney club that organizes Groundhog Day event warned. ‘‘They've been notified, and they said they will keep watching their monitors.’’

Deeley was not the only member of the community that was quick to jump to Phil's defense: "If you remember two weeks ago on a Sunday, it was probably 60, 65 degrees," handler John Griffiths told WXIX in Phil's defense. "So, I mean, that basically counts as an early spring."

The question of whether there is a Corporate conspiracy involved here is not as important as the other questions and concerns held by the community, who in addition to professing love for their amateur meteorologist also feel that his occasional mistakes should be accepted as the cost of being an amateur; besides which they have a lot invested in his ongoing hobby, which is crucial to the local economy.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Tourism, Punxsutawney Phil is the biggest tourism draw in the state, followed by the Little League World Series.  In addition to the official forecast which takes place in the morning at Gobbler's Knob, there are a large number of sanctioned and unsanctioned events, including the annual Groundhog Ball, Phil Phest, and six different musical events.

The World is taking the Indictment Seriously

Phil is reportedly unconcerned about the charges, and in a private address to the members of the community and the clubs that help host his annual events, went so far as to suggest that should the Ohio Prosecutor somehow manage to obtain an extradition order, he would rely upon Jury Nullification as his ace-in-the-hole.

While Phil appears to consider the matter something of a joke, the rest of the world is taking it very seriously indeed, and grass roots Free Phil Movements are cropping up on every continent out of a very real concern that Prosecutor Gmoser may intend to carry out the sentence himself.  

To better understand the world's reaction, all that you need do is read the headlines from newspapers that are carrying the story and following Phil's plight:
  • Groundhog ‘Indicted:’ Punxsutawney Phil Charged With Fraud (One News)
  • Groundhog ‘Indicted:’ Punxsutawney Phil Charged With Fraud (Epoch Times)
  • Groundhog indicted: Punxsutawney Phil charged for bad forecast (KTRK)
  • Groundhog Phil a furry felon over false forecast (Toledo News)
  • Groundhog Phil a furry felon over false forecast (Lebanon Daily News)
  • Groundhog Phil 'indicted,' accused of lying (KITV)
  • Groundhog Phil 'indicted,' accused of lying (WMTW)
  • Punxsutawney Phil Indicted For ‘Misrepresentation Of Early Spring’ (CBS2 New York)
  • Punxsutawney Phil charged with fraud for early spring forecast (Yahoo)
  • Punxsutawney Phil 'indicted' in chilly Ohio (USA Today)
  • Punxsutawney Phil's 2013 Forecast: Groundhog Receives 'Indictment' Over Inaccurate Prediction (Huffington Post)
  • Weather groundhog Phil 'indicted,' accused of lying as winter continues (CNN)

Just to be sure that we are all on the same page, this is humor in the same vein as the original indictment...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

. . . the Organized Internet Life?

A minor blip that caused the disconnection of my always-on Internet connection at home prompted me to do something that I have not done in a very long time: think about my Internet connection.


My connection to the Internet is such that I hardly ever actually think about it because it works the way it is supposed to; the result of that is that I don't need to think about it.  When it briefly did not work the way it was supposed to - and I have no idea why that happened due mostly to the fact that right about the time I was logging in to my firewall to check the connection log to see if there was a useful bit of information about the reason that it dropped its connection, the connection came back up and I was back online.  That being the case, why bother trying to diagnose the cause, right?

Except I was already thinking about my Internet connection at this point, and that little voice in the back of my head that usually gets me into trouble was not-too-calmly yelling to get my attention, before it rudely pointed out to me that the rack full of hardware in my basement that represents my connection to the world was about to celebrate its tenth birthday...

Fifteen Years or so in the past, on a Cold Dark Night
I am not exaggerating when I say that the last time that I dealt with the infrastructure for our network connection and Internet capabilities was fully ten years ago.  Well, with the exception of the WiFi Router that I added slightly less than five years ago, but still...

To fully appreciate the situation we actually have to jump into the Wayback Machine and travel back to the month of November, in the year 1997, which was the time when I actually deployed the computer network that we still use here at Chez Boots-Faubert.  This is ancient history; these are events that took place back before I lost my mobility and could still walk.  This was back when I had worked with my best friend to plan out the most efficient and secure Ethernet network that we could manage at the time, using the cutting-edge tech from the previous century!

The view of my backyard taken on the same late-afternoon day of the great Ethernet Deployment Event, this is what the world outside looked like...
While a blustery day was coming to a close and an equally blustery evening was setting in, the inhabitants of Chez Boots-Faubert were in the process of doing their best to fulfill the roles that nature had forced upon them by circumstance and necessity.  

If we embrace the comforting formality of taxonomy, the population at those coordinates in the time-space continuum consisted of a family grouping of four Homo sapiens who are known by the unique identifying sounds that form the names Chris, Yvonne, Peter, and Autumn, and who were joined by a very close friend -- who answered to the grouping of sounds that follow the verbal pattern Geo-Fry -- and who is also a member of the species Home Sapiens and if not a blood relation than as close as one can be related to another without sharing the same genetic genealogy...

In addition to this grouping of generally homogenous humans of northern European stock, there was also present at this auspicious occasion a trio of Felis catus whose nyms were Nixie, Pixie, and Mischief, and who claimed the environs of the office and Domestic Network Hub (DNH) as a  physical domain of which they jointly ruled by force of will and snickity claws.  

It may interest you to learn that earlier in the day the human known as Yvonne effected the rescue of a sole member of the species Peromyscus maniculatus who was so unfortunate as to cross the path of the one known as "Nixie" who was, by all accounts, a fierce warrior of many claws, and who could be counted upon to defend the various territories to which he laid claim, either separately or jointly with his two brothers.

It is therefore rather remarkable that the one known as Yvonne was able not only to effect the rescue of the Peromyscus maniculatus, but due to circumstances that would require too much background to explain to our mutual satisfaction was also able to provide him with protective shelter in the form of a habitat of proper dimension and security design, equipped with all of the comforts one of that species might reasonably expect. Or even unreasonably expect.

These comforts included a 10oz bottle recently filled with fresh and cool supply of a life-giving liquid substance that is constructed from one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds and obtained via a complex network of piping provided to the community as part of its cooperative efforts towards shared health and comfort, but that is the subject of another and completely unrelated story, and besides which that substance does not mix well with computer networks, I am just saying...

In addition to the aforementioned self-service bottle, the habitat was equipped with a feeding tray that was recently filled with Ground Corn, Soybean Meal, Wheat Mill Run, Alfalfa Hay Suncured, Ground Barley, Whole Corn, Oat Groats, Whole Wheat, Soybean Roasted, Sunflower Seed, Whole Kamut, Cane Molasses Dried, Apple Dried, Flax Seed (which happens to be an excellent source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids which make up a very important part of a proper diet for the typical example of a Peromyscus maniculatus), Yeast Culture, Cranberry Dehydrated, Salt, Sodium Bentonite, Sodium Phosphate, Lignin Sulfonate, Soybean Oil (which is preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, and anyone can tell you that Mixed Tocopherols is an excellent source for Vitamin E), Choline Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, L-Lysine, DL-Methionine, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Iron Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Niacin, SeleniumYeast, Copper Sulfate, Biotin, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Sodium Selenite, Vitamin B2 Riboflavin, Vitamin B1 Thiamin Mononitrate, Magnesium Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine HCl, Folic Acid, Cobalt Carbonate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, and Ethylenediamine Dihydroiodide.

 In addition to all of that there was an exercise wheel! 

It should be mentioned that this very well-equipped habitat was previously the home of an unusually long-lived member of the species Mus musculus whose name was "Gunther" but who had departed this mortal coil on a journey to the designated coordinates in the space-time continuum listed in the TARDIS NavCore as "The Rainbow Bridge."

As Gunther belonged to the species Mus musculus and was a particularly moral character among that species we feel that it can safely be presumed that his name was down in the book maintained by the 
maître d’hôtel in that place (for surely when one ponders the known facts, one can only conclude that a maître d’hôtel would be a bare necessity in a realm in which "There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable" it seems reasonable that some level of competent management must be present, n'est-ce pas?

The members of the family served by the newest Network to be created on planet earth are from left to right and front to back Yvonne, Autumn (seated in the most comfortable seat available when The Big Comfy Couch is not around) and Peter (on the right) pictured here in the rustic environment known as the Domestic Network Hub.

In any event that newest member of the family took up residence in the former home of Gunther, and was instantly granted the sobriquet of "Lucky" for obvious reasons.

It was therefore into this mixture of human and animal that the plan to bring forth a new Network on the face of the earth was hatched and quickly executed!

The Well-Designed Network
As a measure of how serious the project of properly building the Domestic Ethernet Network was, it can be understood and agreed that the design and its deployment included the most modern of Ethernet tech at the time...

While the physical network consisted of 10bT properly deployed to network base plates at the terminus for each drop, all of the wire funneled back to a patch panel installed in the relay rack that was itself installed beside the pair of industry-standard 19" Equipment Racks, with one rack dedicated to the hardware that served the internal network, while the second was dedicated to the hardware that existed within the DMZ for the network, providing the services for the public side of the connection which included but were not limited to a Primary DNS Server, an SMTP and POP3 Server, a Web Server, and a dedicated FTP Server.

On the inside rack was housed a pair of file servers - one for strictly business while the second was more of a media server than a file server in the sense that it had a large number of inexpensive hard drives as well as a 10-disc CD Tower and an Tuner Card that was installed in the server to allow the users on the network to use its dedicated web page to select the programs that they wanted it to record for their later viewing from its Cable TV link.  At the time that was pretty cutting-edge!

Pictured here is Chris in the process of connecting the 10bT drops to the patch panel.  On the right is the house rack.
Once all of the drops were connected to the patch panel, a pair of Kalpana 10bT Ethernet Switches were installed to the relay rack and then patched into the panel to create the network, with the final connection being made to the firewall and Internet Router.  At the time the network connection consisted of a mated pair of 128k ISDN lines, offering a combined speed of 256k which was the best connection that could be obtained in that era.  Considering that the average user in 1997 still connected to the Internet via a 28.8k modem, this was pretty darn fast for a household 'net connection!

About ten years ago DSL finally became available on the Cape and it was at that point that the second to last major update to the Network was made.  The paired ISDN was replaced with a DSL connection that offers something in the neighborhood of 3MB...

Three years ago when one of the ancient Kalpana 10bT Ethernet Switches died on us, forcing us to move all of our connections to the second Kalpana and divide the physical switch into two virtual switches, we realized that something had to be done, so when the next MIT Flea took place (the MIT Flea takes place in the parking garage at MIT on the 3rd Sunday of the month, April thru October and if you have never been you should go, it is really an experience).

So we drove in to Cambridge and bought a pair of softly-used 3Com SuperStack III Gigabit Ethernet Switches to replace the Kalpana, and that is where the situation stands.  Well, that and five or so years ago we added WiFi to the mix because the kids complained a lot about how their iPads and iPhones, needed to be able to connect to the online world...

What Will Be New Will Be New?
So this tiny blip on the radar of our personal connection to the Internet naturally set me to thinking about the fact that the infrastructure of our domestic network is essentially a mixture of different hardware that ranges in age from 5 to 15 years old!  Clearly it is time to seriously consider updating the network, right?  Right!

Going completely wireless is not an option.  Forget for the moment that some of the devices that we use - the IP-based security cameras for example - get their power from the network, there is also the question of security.  It is one thing to create a WiFi connection on an isolated virtual switch so that your kids and surf the world on their iDevices, but it is entirely another matter to declare wireless as a secure standard and connect your life to the world in that fashion.  Just saying.

So the network will remain wired.  But since we already ran the physical wire drops that works out fine.

Having said that though, there is still a need for WiFi and it is getting bigger not smaller!  The iDevices that originally prompted adding a WiFi point of presence to the net have now been joined by wireless phones in general, plus handheld gaming consoles like the Nintendo DS and 3DS, Sony's PSP and Vita, and to a limited degree the traditional consoles themselves, though personally I find that the wired connection for our Xbox360 consoles is still the faster and more reliable way to go...

Sony's PS3 offers built-in wireless (so does the 360) but this is 2013, the year that Microsoft and Sony will be introducing their next gen game consoles, and until we see what direction they are going to take for those, there is no point even speculating, is there?

In this day and age each human user requires accessibility for the following devices at a minimum:
  • Wireless Phone data connectivity
  • Media device (iPad/iPhone basically)
  • Traditional Game Console(s)
  • Portable Game Console(s)
  • Laptop/Notebook Computer
  • Desktop Computer
While that covers the typical human we still need to have full support for the following devices:
  • File Server
  • Media Server
  • Shared Network Printer
  • IP-based security cams
  • Internet-Connected and Skype-enabled TV's
  • Internet-connected Cable DVR
And all of that means that in addition to replacing the ancient WiFi switch it is time to replace the Ethernet Switches, but with what?  

There is no easy answer off-the-cuff, but then this is just the opening act in what will, I am sure, turn out to be a long series on upgrading the network.  

If you think about it the fact that we already have all these devices that each have their own connection requirements makes this whole process even more complicated than it would be if we simply chucked everything out and started from scratch!

I bet this guy could quickly solve the WiFi speed issues on our network...

WiFi Weak?
When we first installed a WiFi router on the network it was mostly used by the kids to download songs from iTunes and games for their DS's - activities that while I am sure they used the available bandwidth when they were doing them never really presented an issue when it came to available bandwidth...  

So you can probably imagine my surprise when I started to hear complaints from the kids about how the "net was so slow" all the time.  I could not see the slowness that they were talking about - it seemed fine to me - but then I was using computers and game consoles that were connected to the network via wires, and they were using their preferred devices on the WiFi side of the network.

I could not imagine how a pair of teenagers using iPads and the like could possible be using that connection to the point that they actually impacted the quality of speed for each other, so I assumed that it was something else - some other radio-based device must be stepping on the channel that the WiFi was using, right?

Naturally I logged into the Admin interface and changed the channel that the WiFi used, and told them I had "fixed" the problem.  Except that the next bored period when they were both using YouTube and Hulu and all of the other bandwidth intensive apps that they used, they again complained about the speed.

Once the complaining reached a fevered pitch I asked my daughter to show me the problem, and low and behold it turned out that they were not imagining things!  As we sat and she tried to watch Netflix on her iPad while her brother was using YouTube and playing Minecraft with one of this mates the TV show that she was watching would sputter and pause while it was forced to re-cache.

'This should not be happening" was my first thought.  But as it turned out when I did a little research into the matter, yes, yes it should.  While both of the kids would likely not have noticed anything if they were using their computers and portable media devices to do things like email, web surf, and the like, once you introduce bandwidth-intensive activities like Netflix and Hulu, and online games with high network activity (a lot of the war games that my son plays qualify in that regard) you are now sharing a limited amount of bandwidth.

What I ended up doing was switching my son's Xbox to a wired connection, and that pretty much solved the problem for the most part, giving my daughter's iPad sole access to the wireless pipe that it clearly needed, but considering how many devices today are being made with WiFi as the preferred connectivity (think portable devices) it is clear to me that WiFi on your home network can no longer be a side-thought.  You have to plan your network with WiFi in mind if you are going to deliver the sort of user satisfaction that teenagers have come to expect :)

Short of outlawing Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and other video services (I could do that, it is just a few lines added to the filter on the firewall) it is clear to me that it is time to rethink the models that we have been using to plan out network capacity today.

Just where is Mr. Wizard when we need him?!

Time to Dust Off the Thinking Cap
As nice as it would be if there was a simple answer to the problem, there isn't.  So this post is not going to conclude with a neat solution, other than to remind me that it is time to start researching the current tech and to begin looking for a usable solution to the problem - but on the bright side, at least I know what the problem is!

As for the rest, I will have to get back you on that...