Why hiding your SSID makes your security worse

I got a couple of questions about my recommended DD-WRT settings, but I’m going to start with the question about why not to hide the SSID. It actually turns out that hiding your SSID is bad for you, and makes your security worse. I’ll explain.

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How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

Connecting old computers and consoles to not-as-old televisions is frequently a challenge. Sadly, the VIC-20, Commodore’s runaway bestseller from 1982, is no exception to that. Here’s how to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV.

Unfortunately, there are fewer options for connecting a VIC than there are the slightly newer and more common C-64, but I’ll walk you through the options you do have.

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The difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND

The difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND

I see people asking about the difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND (sometimes they just ask TP-Link TL-WR841N vs TL-WR841ND). Since nobody else seems to have answered, I’ll take the question.

TP-Link TL-WR841n
This is the TP-Link TL-WR841n.

Here’s how to decode TP-Link model numbers. This is true of the 841 series, which is my go-to for the moment when I need a capable yet inexpensive router, but also other TP-Link models.

“TL” stands for TP-Link. “WR” stands for wireless router. The numbers tell you where the model stands in the product line. Beefier routers have larger numbers. “N” stands for the type of networking, which, in this case, is 802.11N. “D” stands for detachable antennae.

If you don’t need to be able to detach the antennae to replace them with bigger, longer-range models, you can save some money by buying the N-model. Otherwise, the TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND are functionally identical. They both use the same DD-WRT build.

What to look for in a wireless access point

A good way to eliminate dead zones in your house where wifi doesn’t work is to add one or two wireless access points to your setup.

Access points, thankfully, are no longer stupid expensive–they used to cost twice as much as a router in spite of being nothing more than a cut-down router–but almost every access point I’ve looked at has one or more compromises built in. That said, if you want something you can plug in and configure by filling out three or four things, you might be willing to live with those compromises.

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In the city, a $6 antenna is all you need

There are a lot of good plans for DIY antennas on the web that you can make for less than $10 worth of parts, which is good considering the flood of $50 antennas on the market that are little more than hype.

A couple of years ago I made a Gray-Hoverman antenna. I had no complaints about how it worked, but it wasn’t very durable. And in St. Louis it was overkill–it picked up everything tvfool.com said I could get indoors and nothing more. No SIUC PBS station for me. A Gray-Hoverman is probably more useful along the eastern seaboard where the cities and TV stations are closer together.

Rather than fix the Gray-Howerman yet again, or build something else, I bought a basic, traditional-looking RCA ANT111F for $6. Even the simplest DIY antenna, made primarily of a cardboard box with aluminum foil, costs $3-$4 in materials to make and my time is worth more than the difference. If my kids were a bit older, a DIY antenna would be a great science experiment to do with them, but they aren’t.

I did find my reception in the basement, below ground level, was pretty abysmal. The range seemed to be less than five miles, and I could only get about five channels. But on the first floor, with the antenna about seven feet above ground level, my range is 10-12 miles, depending on the strength of the distant signal, and I could get 30 channels. To improve reception in the basement, I connected a longer cable to the antenna (using a cheap keystone jack as a coupler) so I could put it up in the ceiling, closer to ground level. When I did that, I could get 24 channels, though the signal strength wasn’t all that good.

One thing to remember when changing or repositioning an antenna: always scan for new channels afterward.

Bringing back old HDTVs

Over Thanksgiving weekend I picked up a discarded 23-inch LCD HDTV, a Samsung LN-S2341W. The television’s biggest problem, it turned out, was that it didn’t have an ATSC tuner so it couldn’t pick up over the air broadcasts after analog broadcasts came to an end in 2009. Read more

Eliminate wifi dead spots using access points

I’ve said before how to eliminate wifi dead spots, but perhaps I didn’t give it the focus it deserves. I think almost everyone has wifi dead spots in their house that they would like to eliminate. It turns out you can do it, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either.

The idea is to supplement your existing router with one or two additional access points. Read more

My impressions of the TP-Link TL-WR841N

The TP-Link TL-WR841N (and the similar TL-WR841ND) is a lower-mid range router that routinely sells in the $20-$25 range. Although many people consider it an off-brand, TP-Link has had a following in the enthusiast community for a couple of years. I’ve been prone to recommend them because they have a better track record than many of the bigger-name brands of continuing to release firmware upgrades that fix security vulnerabilities. If you’re going to buy a router and leave it stock, you’re better off with a TP-Link than anything else.

I only used the stock firmware to load DD-WRT on it though, so about all I can say is that the TL-WR841N runs DD-WRT really well. Read more

The Channel Master DVR+ is a cord-cutter’s secret weapon

One of the key things that keeps people from cancelling cable and saving themselves $100 a month is the DVR. They don’t want to lose the ability to time-shift their favorite shows and rewatch favorites during rerun season.

Channel Master has the solution for that: The Channel Master DVR+, an over-the-air DVR that works with any antenna and records shows,up to two at once, to an attached USB hard drive. There are no subscription fees, and you can plug in whatever sized hard drive you want. Plug it in to an Ethernet connection, or plug in a USB wifi adapter (a $40 option) if you want the DVR to pull down TV listings over the Internet for you.

The $250 price could be a bit off-putting, but it’s a one-shot purchase. Once you pay the $250, plus whatever hard drive you attach to it, and the wifi adapter if you want it, you’re done. No monthly fees. No losing your shows if you change plans. And if you want a bigger hard drive, just get a new one and plug it in. And since the hard drive is detachable, it probably means you can plug the drive into a computer and copy its contents to another drive for backup, so if the drive ever fails, you don’t lose everything.

To me, the flexibility makes up for the price. I’ve considered trying to build such a device in the past, but by the time I bought a case, motherboard, CPU, memory, and tuner card, I would be out $150-$200, and then I’d probably have to spend most of a weekend getting it all working together. And after that, there’s no guarantee anyone else in the house besides me would be able to figure out how to use it. Getting something I can just take out of the box, plug in, and let the family use is worth a bit of a premium.

And besides, even if I sunk $400 into the thing, that’s four months of cable.

I’m not exactly sure when the DVR+ will be available, but if I can buy one this summer, I intend to.