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Salford IT and AV installation job complete

Rack installed in the basement with 3x 24 port patch panels. It eventually contain a switch, router, server and amplifier for the garden speaker system.

I spent last weekend in Manchester finally completing the first phase of the IT and AV installation job in Salford that I have been working on on-and-off since February. The last time I was there was in June when the project was at second fix stage. Since then the builders have made great progress and the owner of the house has moved back in, requiring me to finish my work in order that he can start to buy toys to plug into the system.

All that remained was the installation of a few final CAT6 face plates that I couldn’t install before (chiefly¬†because the walls on which they were to be installed didn’t yet exist back in June), the installation of the equipment rack in the plant room in the basement, and a complete test of all installed cables with a network cable test for the structured cabling and a multimeter for the home cinema cabling. Astonishingly, I’d made it to 35 years of age without buying a multimeter, which is something of an embarrassment for a geek, so presented with a genuine need for one I went out and bought one. A decent multimeter is only about ten quid. Regarding the structured cabling, out of 67 CAT6 cable runs, only three of them failed the initial test, which is a a good percentage for first test. They were quickly repaired and now all runs work perfectly.

These photos show the highlights of the work, since I’m obviously not going to post a picture of every single socket I installed. Apologies for the quality, they were taken with my iPhone (so, no flash) in artificial light during the evening.

Sockets in the "media room" behind where the home cinema equipment will be. The home cinema connections have their other ends at the appropriate places around the room. The hole in the plasterboard wasn't my fault and will be repaired by the builders!

The next stage is to consult on what my friend/client wants to buy to plug in to this impressive piece of infrastructure. Being a G.P., he doesn’t have much of a clue regarding electronics, hence asking for my help, but does know that he wants a pretty kick-arse system and so is willing to spend a bit on it. However, since his house is still essentially a building site, regardless of whether or not he’s living in it, I expect it’s going to be a fair few months before we get to go shopping.

It was an enjoyable weekend away from home back in Manchester. I’ve not been there since Manchester Pride and I used the opportunity to catch up with H and see Saw 3D, which I enjoyed but was a bit “more of the same”. I also don’t think it’ll be the last one, there’s still loose ends. Given my recent pattern of visits it’ll probably be another couple of months before I make it back.

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Salford IT and AV installation job progress

I’ve been working on the next stage of the IT and AV installation job I’m doing at a friend’s house in Eccles this week. It’s second fix now which means the plastering, tiling and (most of) the painting and decorating has been done, so the job this week was to attach 69 CAT6 sockets to the CAT6 runs pulled through the house and solder all the home cinema faceplates on the speaker cables that we ran through the walls (all 10 of them). Fiddly jobs in places, but no major snags or hiccups, so far at least. When we come to test each and every cable will of course tell us whether we don’t just believe that we’ve done a good job!

All but two of the speaker cables terminate on this one plate, which all has to be soldered.

The next and final stage before equipment install (i.e. the final infrastructure installation stage will take place in a few weeks once the builders have finished the basement, where all the cables terminate and the equipment rack will be situated. Although I have all the bits we need to finish this I can’t do it because the basement to the house is not yet secure. Once the walls are finished and the external doors to the basement are fitted I can move the equipment in and finish it. Then it’ll be the big test.

There are also 12 runs of CAT6 that I’ve not yet been able to do anything with simply because the walls on which they will sit haven’t yet been built, so I’ve just run the cables to the ceiling or floor at the point at which they will eventually be and left sufficient length coiled up ready. Part of that was lifting up huge slabs of concrete out of the floor in the new kitchen which, with hindsight, would have been better done wearing a pair of gloves.

Once it’s all done my “client” can then think about home cinema and computer networking equipment. Right now he just wants to concentrate on getting the builders finished and out so that he can move back in again. I hope he doesn’t think that he “over-egged” the installation. Certainly, a 69 run CAT6 structured cabling system is definitely on the upper end of what you would normally put into a house, even of that size, and he may not even be able to buy a Dolby 9.1 home cinema system for a while. The point is that the infrastructure will make the house very¬†future-proofed, which is what he wanted.

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IT and AV installation job at Salford property

For the past week or so I’ve been working on an IT and AV installation job at a friend’s house in Salford. It’s a large Victorian house which he bought and is in the process of having it gutted and extended.

As part of this he wanted a fully integrated IT, telecoms, TV and and audio system installation, which he’s asked myself and Chris to do since we’ve some considerable experience with such things. He knows nothing about such things since he’s a GP, and so is trusting our judgement on what to install and buy. I hope he doesn’t regret doing so!

Phase 1 is first fix, so basically the hard work of pulling 80 runs of CAT6 and loudspeaker cable through the house (67 runs of CAT6 and 13 runs of speaker cable, including outdoor cables to the gardens). Once this is complete (on Thursday) we then have to wait for the builders to finish ready for second fix (where the cables are connected to sockets and patch panels). This forms Phase 2.

Phase 3 then becomes the really fun bit where we install all the specified equipment, including a computer network, a 9.1 speaker home cinema system, a distributed satellite TV system, a zoned audio system and other smaller features. After that comes the housewarming party where our friend gets to impress everyone with our work :)

It’s a manual job but it’s a fun job and it’s something I’ve done many times before so I don’t mind doing it. It’s not every day someone asks for a structured cabling system in their house, let alone on the scale of this one. Luckily, since it’s an old house, it has a cellar and lots of voids through which cables can be run. Ironically newer houses are harder to retrofit in this way unless it’s done at initial first fix because they simply don’t have such spaces, usually in the name of cost saving and profit maximisation on the part of the developers.

Here are a few geeky pictures of Phase 1. Apologies for the poor quality, they’re iPhone pictures. I’ll replace them with nicer ones if I remember to take any.

AV cables ready for home cinema installation

Many of the cables run through the cellar

The smallest bedroom is being set up as an office and so has trunking

Plant room in basement, where cables will terminate in a rack (image helpfully rotated by WordPress)

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Powerline ethernet

It’s not amazingly new technology, but the price of Powerline networking equipment has recently come down and so the other week I bought three adaptors for use on our home network to replace a couple of creaky wireless connections which were really starting to annoy me. The trouble is that in my apartment building we are surrounded by 40 odd wireless networks, and even with careful channel selection the local wireless spectrum can get very congested very easily, which leads to problems, particularly when streaming music to the AirTunes in the bedroom.

The powerline adaptors really are plug and play – not a single bit of setting up is required. You just plug them in and they work, very impressive. So now I’ve got the MacMini and the bedroom AirTunes on what is effectively wired ethernet and they both perform very reliably. The speed’s nothing amazing, but I’m not fussed about that, as long as the devices remain available and have reasonable speed then that’s all I’m worried about. The technology boasts up to 85Mb/s, but I don’t know how close to that I’m getting. It’ll work with 4 gangs but apparently the speed is reduced if you try to use it with surge protectors.

I detest wireless more and more these days, it really isn’t the convenience utopia that everyone makes it out to be. I hate setting it up, I hate troubleshooting it and I hate it when it craps out on you when it’s lease convenient, so the ability to eliminate wireless connections without having to take a chisel to the wall is very welcome! Very highly recommended if your wireless is up and down more often than Tower Bridge.

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Wireless: Not the convenience utopia everyone thinks it is

You know what? I fucking hate wireless networks. It seems that every single day of my life I’m somehow supporting or fixing a wireless network, whether that’s at home, in the office or for a broadband customer. Wireless simply isn’t the convenience utopia that it’s made out to be. It’s unreliable, unsecure and absolutely no substitute for a proper wired network, despite what some bedroom network consultant idiots I’ve overheard in the Institute of Directors claim.

At work I’m constantly being asked what the WEP key is, even though it’s the name of a reasonably popular children’s television programme which is hardly difficult to remember. Then as soon as a website doesn’t load or whatever, it’s immediately assumed that the wireless network has gone down and I get a phone call or a shout accross the office as if it’s somehow my fault.

At home I get friends coming round who decide that they want to check their e-mail or whatever and so ask if they can use my wireless. I give them the 26 character WEP key and of course this is a big old hassle for them to enter into their PCs (which of course they have to do twice on Windows machines) and there’s lots of huffing and sighing, as if it’s some fucking huge inconvenience for them to use my Internet connection for free.

Then there are the hotels which claim to offer a wireless network service but it actually transpires that all they’ve done is install a couple of crappy wireless access points here and there and haven’t actually checked that it’s usable in all parts of the establishment. The Crowne Pointe is a fine example of this. Luckily they also have wired connections in the rooms, but that of course meant that we had to drive all the way to Hyannis (some 50 miles away) yesterday to get a network cable, because the wired port is behind the dresser on the other side of the room.

Then you get the people who insist on having a wireless network, but that also want it to be 100% secure. It’s not going to happen. If you want a secure computer network, don’t connect a wireless access point to it. You must choose between the “convenience” of wireless and a secure network, you cannot have both, especially when you don’t want to invest in RADIUS servers, secure certificates, and all the other stuff that’s associated with WPA encryption; itself no guarantee of 100% security.

Don’t get me wrong, wireless does have its place, but by no means should it be considered to be an all-encompassing solution for network connectivity requirements. It’s limited, unreliable, unsecure, and a lot of the time just not worth the hassle. It’s been improving over time, and will continue to do so, but it’s not mission-critical just yet. Until it is, use it at your own risk, and if it goes wrong, use a fucking cable.