Technology

AirPort Extreme replaced with AmpliFi

Background

Some of you reading this who use Apple equipment may have home networks created by Apple AirPort Extreme and/or Express routers, or, in some cases Time Capsules (which are AirPort Extremes with hard disks in them for Time Machine backups).

The big news this past week is that Apple is discontinuing their AirPort line and when current stock is sold, they won’t make any more. I’m not sure what this means for firmware updates but those will eventually stop, maybe not immediately but sometime in the next year.

Most of us think of networking gear like plumbing: it runs in the background and god-forbid we have to fiddle with it (some people do enjoy fiddling with it). AirPort, while a great solution wasn’t perfect although setting it up with AirPort Admin was easy and once up and running, it was and still is rock solid.

There are numerous companies making networking equipment that in some ways is more modern than AirPort: Apple hasn’t updated AirPort devices in years and the rest of the networking industry has marched on.

And, over the years use of the internet has changed: we now stream a lot of video (some of it 4K), have multiple hand-held devices on a home network and some people don’t even have a computer anymore (imagine!).

I knew I would eventually have to replace my AirPort Extreme router but there’s no rush, it still works perfectly.

My setup

  • Cable modem
  • AirPort Extreme wifi router
  • iMac Pro connected via ethernet to a LAN port on the AirPort
  • HP laser printer connected via ethernet to another LAN port on the AirPort
  • Ethernet cable running in the walls downstairs to a wall jack and into an Apple TV connected via a LAN port on the AirPort

We use the AirPort wifi for networking everything else (two iPhones, two iPads and Anne’s MacBook Pro) and the AirPort Extreme covers the entire house easily. Sitting in the far end of the living room which is as far away from the base station as you can be in the house the signal drops a tad but it’s good enough.

So, I needed a router and wifi access point and the router had to have 3 or more LAN ports on the back. If you search around on Amazon there are many devices that fill this need. The two things many of them lack is this: easy to use software to set up the network and control access, and a company that’s on top of things enough to do firmware updates to the router as needed.

AmpliFi

Two of my friends are big fans of the networking company Ubiquiti Networks. This company builds high-end networking gear for offices and larger installations. They only recently got into the home networking space with their AmpliFi system.

The AmpliFi wifi router (just the base station) has all the features I wanted although there was no way to find out if it alone, minus its mesh satellites, would be enough to cover my house short of buying one. It alone costs about $130 which is less than the $199 an AirPort Extreme costs. Adding more coverage costs about $110 per mesh point but there’s no reason to do that up front, you can wait until you find out you need it (or not).

For those who haven’t been following the evolution of home networking, in the old days one could extend an AirPort network by adding another AirPort router (an Express) and the method was either with an ethernet cable or with a wifi connection between the base station and its satellite. It wasn’t hard to set up although it wasn’t great and coverage was improved but still not perfect.

The modern way for a home user to do this is with what’s called a mesh system: a base station router and little mesh antennas that one can plug in around the house to extend the wireless range. Very much like building with tinker-toys, or so we’re told.

I don’t really want a mesh system here: I just need a capable router/wifi base station that has enough range to cover my house. However, the nice thing about the AmpliFi system is that it’s really both: the base unit is a direct replacement for the AirPort Extreme and one can add mesh satellites as one needs them, or, not at all.

Here is the listing for the base station alone: AmpliFi HD Mesh Router.

I ordered one from Amazon two days ago (I figured easier returns to Amazon in case it didn’t work out) and while I dreaded taking down our network, I set it up this morning.

Here’s the executive summary: setup is a snap, it has better coverage than the AirPort Extreme it replaced and my entire network (iMac Pro, laser printer, Apple TV, iOS devices) was up and running again in a few minutes. Seriously, a few minutes! The device is smaller than the AirPort: same footprint, about 2/3 the height.

Setting up the AmpliFi HD Mesh Router

It’s taking me longer to write this up than it will take you to do it.

The box this device comes in is quite amazing, almost feels like overkill but it does give the kind of confidence opening up a device from Apple gives (if packaging can do that for you).

1. Download their app on your iPhone or Android phone before starting. The app is called “amplifi” so just search for that in the app store and you’ll find it. I wish it was built for iPad as well but alas, it’s fine on the iPhone alone. Run the app before starting.

2. Disconnect all the old stuff and power down your cable modem or whatever device you have. In my case I have a battery backup on my cable modem and took that out as well as disconnected its power cord).

3. Connect AmpliFi to the cable modem with included ethernet cable.

4. Power up the cable modem.

5. Power up AmpliFi. Note: the AmpliFi power brick cable is quite short, plan accordingly.

Note: at some point in here (I forget where) I had to quit the AmpliFi app and connect to the new network in Settings on my iPhone. The app uses bluetooth for the initial setup and then uses the new wifi connection.

6. Follow the instructions on the AmpliFi app to name the network and create a password. I used the same network name and password I’d used on the AirPort Extreme.

7. Plug in whatever other LAN stuff you have (I have an iMac Pro, a laser printer, and an Apple TV, all connected via ethernet).

8. Log back into your network on all devices. Even though the network name and password were the same I had to log back in because the access point was new. Apple TV was automatic (nice).

9. The AmpliFi app will tell you all is well and that’s that. The app has ways to control the lighting and feedback on the AmpliFi router and it also gives you your network speed and more information.

Notes

The power brick cable on the AmpliFi is pretty short. Plan accordingly.

Coverage is better than the AirPort Extreme (amazing since its a smaller device). I have complete coverage anywhere in my house and in my driveway. If I need more coverage or over time I find coverage is weak I can always buy an AmpliFi MeshPoint HD or, better, another AmpliFi router and beef up my network.

Apple TV connection was automatic as I had named the network the same thing and used the same password.

Network printing on the laser printer was automatic.

I used the app to change a few settings but the default settings are fine.

If you use AirPort express to connect to home audio equipment I’d slave the same AirPort express to the AmpliFi system. I’m not sure what else to recommend at this point.

If you use a Time Capsule for over the air Time Machine backups I think you’ll probably have to switch to a locally connected Time Machine drive. There may be other solutions coming but I haven’t heard of them yet.

I’d say (so far) that this is the absolute best replacement solution for the AirPort Extreme. Easy to set up, great coverage, and I have faith that this company will keep the firmware updated.

I was dreading this changeover but in fact, it was completely painless. Those of you reading this who are in the same boat, there is no huge rush, just because Apple discontinued AirPort doesn’t mean you have to switch immediately. But, in fact, the AmpliFi setup may give you better coverage with faster speeds and it might pay to make the switch sooner than later. In short, don’t be intimidated by this, it’s doable by most if not all home network users

Feel free to let me know what your experience is in the comments.

How Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to find out who you are

How Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to find out who you are

No doubt you know all about this and other Facebook data scrapes and breaches by now but this cartoon explanation, by Eleri Harris and Andy Warner at The Nib is a useful explainer.

Note: I had an early Facebook account but dumped it after a year as I didn’t particularly like the Facebook design and found it less than useful. When Facebook bought Instagram I dumped that too. To me, there’s something questionable about social tools that attempt to pull people in by appealing to their desire to become more popular. Yes, I realize that Facebook and Instagram are more than that, but these (popularity) tools are deeply engrained in their designs. What people will do to become and remain popular is bothersome to me. Flickr does this and I ranted about it a number of years ago: Flickr Explore.

Of course, WordPress (this site) does this as well… Sigh.

Primitive Technology: New area starting from scratch

The primitive technology dude bought a new piece of property and is starting a new series from scratch: clearing a spot for a hut, building the hut and a bed inside. Great stuff.

There are many more of these great videos at the Primitive Technology site and for those who prefer, he has a Primitive Technology YouTube Channel.

Primitive Technology: Pottery and Stove

Digging clay out of a streambed, making some coiled pots and firing them in a campfire. Then, making a cooking pot and a dugout stove for heating water and cooking. Brilliant.

There are many more of these great videos at the Primitive Technology site and for those who prefer, he has a Primitive Technology YouTube Channel.

[via The Kid Should See This]

Affiliate marketing gone wild

The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare

This is an incredible piece by David Zax on affiliate marketing in the online mattress sales world.

For me, the bottom line is, any site that makes money from affiliate links loses objective credibility in reviewing the products its making money linking to.

If I review mattresses and also make money linking you to various mattress companies, I can easily be influenced by one mattress company offering a bigger payout for each sale I send their way.

And, this is not small money: a number of these mattress review sites are making over a $1 million a year in affiliate payouts.

This is an incredible story, read until the end, it will blow your mind.

Tip: if you are doing research online on a product you want to buy and follow a link from a review site to, say, Amazon or the company selling the product, look closely at the URL in your browser and you can see the affiliate link clearly. If you want to support the reviewer (the linker), buy with that link, if not, change the link.

Note: This site does not take part in affiliate marketing. The link below to Jason Kottke’s site does not generate income for me or him, it is simply an acknowledgement that I read about the Fast Company article at his site and followed a link from his site to the actual article. I try to acknowledge sources as I can.

[via Kottke.org]

Primitive Technology: Simplified blower and furnace experiments

Building a crude furnace with a hand-powered blower. The furnace is not only good for firing clay (to higher temperature with the blower) but he’s starting to experiment with glazing with wood ash and iron.

He’s an expert at both coming up with great projects and breaking them down into steps but also video editing to show process without narration or dramatic music.

I’ve been a fan for years.

There are many more of these great videos at the Primitive Technology site and for those who prefer, he has a Primitive Technology YouTube Channel.

[via The Kid Should See This]

Jessa Jones, master microfixer

Jessa Jones does board-level repairs on iPhones and iPads. Brilliant video, amazing work, and while I get why Apple doesn’t get into this I’m glad she is and hopefully Apple supports her work.

Her company is iPad Rehab.

Jessa has a youTube channel: iPad Rehab with lots of detailed demos on the really nerdy stuff.

[via The Kid Should See This]

Discussing the birth of the iPhone

John Markoff interviews former iPhone engineering team members Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra and Scott Herz, followed by a second interview with Scott Forstall.

This is a two hour interview, Forstall starts about 1:07 but both hours are well worth listening to. Understand that the technology that these people built changed the world and Forstall had an inkling of the importance of what they were doing but really, none of them had any idea that the iPhone would turn out to be the success it has been.

This isn’t just for Apple fan-people or iPhone geeks, this will be interesting for anyone who wants a behind the scenes look at how these people’s careers took shape and how they ended up on the original iPhone team. The personal anecdotes are fascinating.

I was involved with Apple in the early years of the Macintosh and this felt very much like early interviews with Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, and others on the first Macintosh team. Historic.

This event took place at The Computer Museum and regrettably, the sound and video aren’t great, but it is extremely worthwhile.

Note: Scott Forstall left Apple (was let go) in 2012. Wouldn’t it be ironic (and interesting) if Forstall, like Jobs, came back to Apple later as CEO (or in some other capacity) after going through a personal transformation outside of Apple. Sometimes distance makes for a clearer head.

Sound Princess

Many years ago when we were visiting friends in Japan we were leaving a temple and decided to use a public restroom.

I went into the men’s room and used a urinal which looked a bit different from urinals I was used to but no doubt different commercial porcelain casting companies and different cultures make for differences in the shape of things like men’s urinals.

However, I noticed a button on the wall, seemingly independent from the urinal and its plumbing. I had no idea what the button did and I was concerned that pushing it might open a trapdoor in the floor and I’d fall through (joke).

When I met up with my wife and our friend Laurie who, at this point had lived in Japan for over ten years, I asked Laurie what the button was for.

She told me that many years ago Japan underwent a drought and designers had looked for ways to conserve water. One thing they noticed was that, for a variety of reasons, people were flushing before going to the bathroom (not just women which is stated in the video), generally to mask the sound of a fart or other toilet-related sounds. I certainly have noticed people doing this in the US as well: sound masking, men who have trouble peeing hearing running water, cleaning toilet before being near it, etc.

So, clever Japanese designers came up with a solution: digitize the sound of running water and put a button and a speaker at every urinal and toilet, thus saving water and at the same time, allowing people to use the water sound for whatever they needed to.

In the video above, the single button is replaced by a control panel and but the sound button is still there, now called the “privacy button.”