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As with any technology project ... there is always more to add, adjust and fiddle with. This can either be a curse or a continued source of fun ... depending on your point of view and level of interest in technology. In my case ... I can't get enough of it ... much to the chagrin of Gracie ... my better half ... although I think she's even starting to enjoy this stuff. I caught her reading some instructions the other day.
There have been some interesting products introduced in the last few months and some are worth noting here. I had a chance to test some Powerline Networking products ... and am totally impressed with that technology. I added a powerline network to this project within just a few minutes. This means that anywhere on the premises I can plug in a laptop or other network device using just a small wall wart plugged into a 110 volt electrical outlet and connected via USB or ethernet cable to the laptop. File sharing and internet browsing at 14 Mbps.
One of the most interesting products is the Powerline Wireless Access Point from Siemens. This wall wart has an antenna sticking out of the top instead of a plug. The antenna is for 802.11b wireless networking. Plug it into the wall and now your wireless laptop communicates with the wall wart ... and the wall wart communicates over the powerline network to access the internet etc. But why do this when you already have a wireless access point. Well ... I have found that the 802.11b wireless network does not have the range that I need to get from one end of the house to the other. With this solution you can simply plug the powerline device into the wall in the room you are computing from and get full speed wireless access no matter where you are. You don't need to buy a wireless access point at all. Just use this and carry it around ... or buy a few and scatter them around the house for maximum coverage.
Another great use of Powerline Networking is for other devices that need to be networked to your computer. In our August 2003 emagazine we reviewed Slim Devices SLIMP3 Network Audio Player.
This is a cool little device that streams music from your computer or the internet and plays it on your stereo. Since few of us have our computer near the stereo ... a connection is required. Our reviewers solution was to use a powerline network. In his words This allowed me to place the player inside my bedroom where my stereo is located and use the apartment's power line for communications between the player and my PC. Not having to string a 100ft CAT3 across my apartment was a huge plus.
Speaking of Wireless Access Points ... I decided to move ours to the home theater cabinet rather than keep it in the lab. The main reason for this is range ... when it's in the lab I just can't get the signal where I need it. An added benefit I found with this location is that since the unit we have is also a 4 port ethernet hub ... I can add more ethernet devices in the home theater whenever I want. For example I plugged the Imerge Sound Server into the hub so it can access Gracenote for CD identification. If you remember ... I ran 4 CAT5 cables to the Home Theater. I am actually only using one of them for the wireless hub ... mind you another one is used for the IR network and who knows what else will come up in the future.
I've been playing around a bit with the the Elan multi-room system ... adding sources. Firstly, I had an old VCR laying around from bygone days so I piled it on top of the stack and plugged it in as a video and audio source. We can now watch the evening news on the Via touchscreen panel or keep up with a baseball game throughout the house. Gracie can even play her yoga tape and do contortions all over the house :-(
A few weeks ago we had visitors from Brazil ... so of course I had to do something to impress them ... and while I was at it I opened the door to a whole new world. I connected the audio output from the PC in the lab to the Elan system. Then I opened Windows Media Player and found a Brazilian Internet radio station. Simple as that ... streaming Brazilian music everywhere. I still have to go and manually select the music station and play it ... but what the heck ... that's just another problem to find a solution to. With the infrastructure we put into place ... the possibilities seem endless.
The latest major addition to this project is a Touchscreen Wireless Weather Station from La Crosse Technology.Now this is one of the coolest products I've played with in a long while ... and one of the easiest to set up. The weather station is a stand alone system that comes with all the sensors that you need to give you up to the minute data (inside and out). Italso has a weather predictor that is uncanny.
The system keeps track of indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, wind direction and velocity, solar intensity and rainfall. All of these variables are displayed on a very elegant touchscreen panel that can be wall mounted or set on a table. Each of the outdoor sensors is powered by a small battery that is kept charged by a photovoltaic solar cell. What a great solution ... wireless in every respect.
In the center of the display is a graphic depiction of the weather forecast. 4 possibilities ... sun, sun and cloud, cloudy and rain. Here's where I got mad at the system. A few hours after I'd set it up ... the rain graphic was displayed. I looked outside and it was a brilliantly sunny July day. I tuned in the radio weather forecast and they said we could get showers in a few days. The rain forecast stubbornly remained on the display and sure enough ... just as we had some guests arriving the next day ... the sky opened and the rain came pouring down. Could the weather station have caused this just to prove a point :-( I'll never question it again ... I promise.
La Crosse is also sending us a battery powered temperature sensor for the Home Theater equipment cabinet. I'll be able to monitor the temperature in the cabinet and set an alarm to warn in case of overheating. You can connect up to 8 temperature sensors for monitoring and alarms.
That's about it for this installment. Please contact me if you have any ideas for things to try out in our lab. Philips has promised to send over an iPronto soon so that will probably be described in the next issue along with some other adventures that I would like to attempt.