Friday, September 18, 2015

What Kind of Air Conditioner Should I Install?

What brand should I install?  Should I pay extra for the 20 SEER system?  These are common questions.  They're the questions I asked myself when I was doing my remodel.


There are several premium HVAC brands that make good equipment, and there are several second tier brands that also make good equipment.  The truth is, you're probably not going to go wrong on equipment brand.

The top tier brands mostly control their image by controlling who can install their equipment.  Because they set the bar on the installer, they are able to reduce the number of bad installs of their equipment, which are the most likely cause of poor reliability and failures.  The second tier brands tend to be available to anyone, which means that they tend to be installed by more fly-by-night operators, but the equipment itself isn't really that much different.

Once upon a time, brand probably mattered a lot.  The different manufacturers all had their own technologies that they had developed with regard to compressors and heat exchangers and expansion valves and controls.  Some companies were undoubtedly better than others.  That's just no really the case anymore.  This equipment all largely utilizes components from outside suppliers.  Often these are companies that used to be part of the AC manufacturer before those markets became more competitive, but they were spun off and sold decades ago.  Today you'll find that they're all buying components from a lot of the same people.

I like to tell a story about when I was at Enviro Systems and we were developing the 787 galley chillers with Hamilton Sundstrand.  HS is part of United Technologies, the same company that owns Carrier.  They offered to let us use a Carrier test facility in Syracuse to test a new heat exchanger technology, but first they had to, well, have someone go to the facility and see if everything still worked, because nobody had used it recently.  Carrier no longer really needed to test heat exchangers because they just aren't really in that business anymore.  Heat exchangers come from outside suppliers.  Compressors come from outside suppliers.  None of those suppliers are exclusive to Carrier.

Features and Efficiency

The top brands, at the top end of their product lines, for customers willing to pay for premium products, may sometimes offer technologies that are nice, but the truth is that if you're buying anywhere outside of the very top, good features are available even in the budget brands.

So what features do you want?  You want a 2 stage compressor, a variable speed fan furnace, and a thermostatic expansion valve.  You want these because they provide a big improvement in comfort over more basic single stage systems.

When it comes to efficiency, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) generally is referenced.  I will save you a lot of boring discussion and we'll just say it's a pretty decent system, but it's not perfect.

  1. Manufacturers tend to advertise based on the maximum SEER rating they can achieve with a particular compressor/condenser pallet.  Note that they will say something like "up to 18 SEER" in the sales literature.  You may not even actually be able to buy the set of equipment they used to get that 18 SEER test rating. At best your system is likely to be a little less efficient than advertised.
  2. Where you live matters.  "Seasonal" calculations are applied, so SEER is more accurate in some locations than others.

Before 2006, a budget AC system didn't have to be very efficient, and SEER ratings ran in the single digits.  In 2006 a minimum SEER rating of 13 SEER was introduced.  In 2015 the minimum was increased to 14 SEER.

Your 2 stage, variable speed furnace will put you in the "up to" 16-18 SEER range.  Anything above 18 SEER probably is going to come at a premium that you probably can't or won't justify.  Doing the math, an 18 SEER system will notionally use 11.1% less power per year than 16 SEER.  20 SEER will provide a 20% savings over a 16 SEER. 22 SEER would only be 27% more efficient than 16 SEER.

As you can see, the returns start to diminish as you continue to increase the rating, and acquisition costs tend to escalate much more quickly than the savings.  18 SEER is really the sweet spot in the market right now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Roomba: The Home Appliance You Shouldn't Do Without

Several years ago my father gave all my siblings and my adult nephew Roombas for Christmas.  Immediately I started hearing how everyone loved theirs, but ours sat for a while. We had a need for clean floors, because we had a baby, but we also had a nearly constant state of crawling baby clutter on the floors and thought it was too much trouble at the time.

Wow, we really made a mistake.  Once we started using it, it changed our lives.  All it takes is a quick "roomba patrol" before you leave the house and Roomba will drastically improve the status quo cleanliness of your floors.  Like many such devices meant to help you, you won't reach perfection with no effort, you will still need to clean.  Of course, you don't just throw leftover food into your dishwasher with your dishes and expect it to take care of everything, either.  Some effort is required, but most of us aren't building a kitchen without a dishwasher.  Likewise, I wouldn't have a home at this point without a Roomba.

500 Series Roomba
Our Trusty 500 Series Roomba Continues to Please

This attitude was reinforced when we moved into our current home with no carpet.  Per my parents, one of the reasons people hated the hard floors that were ubiquitous before the second half of the 20th century was that it was a pain to keep the hard floors clean.  People moved to carpet, which basically disguised the fact that it was dirty.  The trend today is toward hard floors, and has been for some time.  One reason is because, well, hiding the fact that you're dirty is just gross.  Carpets are never really clean.  These days, so many people pay someone to clean regularly that they can more easily live with the maintenance.

Once you've lived with it, though, you know that 2 days makes hard floors gross if you have kids or pets or both.  Go 2 days and walk barefoot across your floor.... ick.  Roomba solves that by keeping things at a maintenance level of clean.

What Does Roomba Do?

In a nutshell, Roomba wanders around your house vacuuming.  It isn't as powerful as your main vacuum, and it isn't as smart as you are, but it is small, so it will go under your bed, and it is faithful.  If you keep the bin empty and the schedule set, it will go out, clean, and find its way home every day that it doesn't eat one of your second grader's socks that it ran over under his bed.
What it doesn't do?  It doesn't map your house.  It has a set of different behaviors that it switches between.  Sometimes it will take off across the room, sometimes it will spiral, sometimes it will follow the wall with a little spinning brush that pulls things away from the wall.  These behaviors have a knack of covering your home.  Some days it may spend a lot of time in your bedroom, some days in the living room, but by and large, it gets it done.

How Does it Work?

Aside from the vacuum and related brushes, there are 2 drive wheels that allow Roomba to steer, another that allows it to detect ledges, a bumper with sensors to detect if it ran into something, and an infrared system to know when it's about to run into something and slow down, which usually works, though sometimes it will still hit things at its full speed.  The infrared detector also lets it see its home base/charging station, virtual lighthouses and virtual walls, each of which have their own IR emitters.  Finally there is an RF capability for talking to the above accessories.

Roomba has an IR seeking behavior that will cause it to try to find its home base/charging station at the end of a cycle.  Once its sensor sees the base, it will home in on it and find its way back and dock so it can charge up for its next cycle.

Similar behavior combined with virtual lighthouses are used by Roomba to identify an area.  Roomba will try to stay where it can see the IR emitted from a virtual lighthouse for a period of time.  If you are a control freak, or just have a  specific need, you can use several of them to force Rooma into a cleaning schedule of sorts.  With a few lighthouses you could do something like "try to stay in the living room until its clean, then once you find the bedroom, stay there until it's clean, then go to the other bedroom until its clean, then find your way home.

Finally, virtual walls will keep Roomba out of an area with a narrow IR beam.  You can leave the door open to the playroom and Roomba won't go in and eat the LEGO blocks.

Current Models

Roomba 980 In 2015 iRobot introduced a new top of the line Roomba.  The battery pack was updated to Lithium Ion technology, it added additional sensors, and WiFi integration with an app.  This new Roomba maps your home, and can do neat tricks like go back to its dock, charge, and resume cleaning so that it covers everything you've scheduled.  This is a big step up in capability, and, at $900, you pay for it.

Roomba 880 The Roomba 880 features the 800 series's new vacuum system.  I haven't yet trusted it, but I'm going to say that I believe iRobot and that it is an improvement over the older system.  In addition, it includes two lighthouses, a virtual wall, and the remote control.  Basically it's the newest Roomba with lots of toys and accessories.

Roomba 870 The Roomba 870 features the same vacuum system as the 880.  In addition, it includes two virtual walls.  If you don't want a lighthouse, this is the way to go because it's about $100 less than the 880.  The 870 is no longer in the production lineup, but is still available from Amazon.

Roomba 860 The Roomba 860 features the same vacuum system as the 880 and includes Lithium Ion batteries, which is a nice feature.  It includes a single virtual wall, getting it to a price point to replace the 770 in the lineup.  If you know what you're doing on accessories, this could be a good deal for you.  I would say that 1 wall isn't enough, as I use 1 all the time but occasionally use 2, but walls are only $40.

Roomba 770 This is the pinnacle of the previous generation Roomba design, the 770 is still a solid choice.  It comes with 2 virtual walls and a remote control and saves another $100 from the 870.  The 770 is no longer in the production lineup, but is still available from Amazon at a good price.

Roomba 650 This is the budget choice, and comes with a slightly less evolved version of the vacuum in the 770, and only a single virtual wall, saving another $100.  Unless you have Roomba experience and know what you're getting into, or maybe you want to order your accessories separately and get a lighthouse instead of a wall, I probably wouldn't go this far down the food chain.  The second virtual wall ($40 of the $100) is worth having, and the newer vacuum is probably the right choice.

Older models

iRobot makes a ton of different models, including special versions for different retailers packaged with different accessories, and evolutionary versions within each major series. If you know what you're looking for, you can find some great deals. You just have to watch for them.

Products referenced in this post:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Synology NAS Minecraft Server Administration

Update: I will be maintaining the following page with the most up to date information:

Last month I wrote a post about how I modified a package to install a basic Minecraft server onto my Synology NAS.  Once you run the package your server will be running with default settings.  If you're like me, the question is, "Uh, now what?"  When I picked up the project, I knew exactly nothing about administering a Minecraft server, so I have been stumbling through this.

So, first a little primer, without any extensions, a Minecraft server will be a single world, either creative or survival.  The settings for the server will be in /volume1/@appstore/Minecraft/

Command Line:

You can telnet or SSH into your Synology once you've turned on the Terminal service in "Control Panel-> Terminal & SNMP -> Terminal -> Enable Telnet/SSH service." Once you log in with your client of choice you can manually edit this file using VI.  This is, of course, how I did it at first. If you're not used to using a Linux command line and/or you've never used VI, that will quite likely be a painful experience.  Even if you used to use VI a bit but that was 20 years ago, you're going to struggle a bit.  A few client options:

  • Windows includes a telnet client.
  • Lots of people like PuTTY.

Synology DSM Interface

Unfortunately, DSM (currently 5.2) doesn't have a built-in way to easily deal with editing your config files.  Fortunately, there are third party solutions!  There is a "config file editor" package linked below:

I've gone ahead and hosted this in my repository for convenience.  NOTE:  You must have Synology's Perl package installed for this to work, so install it first if you don't already have it installed.

Once you have it installed (you can run it from the Package Center), you can open it and set it up to edit your Minecraft config files.  Under "Choose config file" select "Config File Editor" and add the following lines:

/volume1/@appstore/Minecraft/,Minecraft-properties /volume1/@appstore/Minecraft/white-list.txt,Minecraft-whitelist /volume1/@appstore/Minecraft/ops.txt,Minecraft-ops

I added them at the top of the list, right below the row of # signs, since they were the main files I wanted to edit with this utility.  Now you'll have to close down config file editor and restart, and voila, you'll have access to your important files.  This won't get you away from using a command line, but it will get you away from VI.

When you add names to the ops.txt and the white-list.txt files, Minecraft will import them on startup, and rename the .txt files to .txt.converted.  The actual data will be stored in similarly named .JSON files that will have the UID's associated with each user name, like this:

    "uuid": "xxxxx-xxx-xxxxx-xxxx",
    "name": "username"

Once you're up and running, as an op you can whitelist people from the in-game command line and not worry about editing these files.

To Be Continued

I will come back and edit this as I have a chance.


Below are some useful Minecraft Server Admin Links:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Cable Modem Guide for TWC Maxx, and Why You Need to Stop Renting

(Post updated 8/15/2015 to add info on Amazon's trade-in program and point out that Maxx is live at my address.)
(Post updated 5/7/2016 to add info Arris SB6190 and to update pricing info)

You may not be aware, but Time Warner Cable got rid of their analog TV channels that were hogging huge amounts of network bandwidth (FINALLY!) and is bringing faster Internet speeds to Dallas with what they're branding "TWC Maxx."  Some areas already have it, and Lake Highlands is coming Real Soon Now™.

I've never paid for blazing fast speeds, and have been happily plugging along with their standard 15Mbps service since they upgraded their standard service from 10Mbps to 15Mbps.  In August (I'm told), my speed is going to jump to 50Mbps for the same price, and up to 300Mbps for those interested in paying for it .  The current top end is 100Mbps.  That's a significant jump.  The standard speed will be faster than AT&T offers with their VDSL2 "Uverse Max Turbo" service, which isn't even offered at my address.  At my address, the FASTEST service AT&T offers is a 18Mbps, so TWC is clearly the best option already, and it's about to get better.

We All Like Saving Money

So, that's great and wonderful, and now you know.  And that's not really why I decided to write this.  The real reason is to point out that if you're renting your cable modem, you're flushing money down the toilet, and probably have mediocre hardware to boot.  I know, I know, you really don't spend any time at all thinking about this little blinky box, right?

ARRIS Motorola SurfBoard SB6141 Cable Modem
Nobody really wants to think about this thing.

Maybe just a little thought is needed every 3-4 years, and this might be the time.  First off: you don't have to rent your cable modem.  Many people simply don't know that.  You can buy your own (there is an approved list of modems and an allowed list of modems) and call TWC and they will pair it with your account.

Several years ago I stopped renting.  The modem I bought supports speeds to 100Mbps, or 6.67 times what I'm currently using.  I think I was paying $6/month and calculated that it would take me a year to break even on my $70 purchase.  About a year later they raised the fee to $8/month.  Basically it's a fee that they have just been ratcheting up because people ignore it.  Yikes, this is a no-brainer, right?

Other Reasons NOT to Rent

OK, so money is the obvious reason you shouldn't rent, but there's more to it than that.

Channels, Channels, Channels

You may be thinking "If I rent from TWC, they'll always make sure my hardware is up to date."  In case you didn't notice, TWC is a cable company, and they are going to give you the minimum amount of service they think they can get away with to keep you as a customer.  As such, if your modem works, and you're not paying for a speed tier that requires it, you're not going to get upgraded unless you go out of your way to push their buttons.

"So what!?" you say.  Let's say you have a 2009 model, discontinued but still supported Motorola SB6120.  I'm not sure that TWC ever rented these out, but let's go with this.  This modem is DOCSIS 3.0, on the approved list, and they will provision it for speeds up to 50Mbps.  Unless you pay for >50Mbps, they aren't likely to offer you an upgrade.  Why would they when you will happily keep paying them $8 a month?  The problem is, this ancient modem is an early DOCSIS 3.0 4 channel modem.

The reason this is bad is that fewer channels means a higher probability of one your neighbors' traffic clogging the series of tubes, er channels, between you and your emergency kitten.  Basically, fewer channels means it's less likely that you will get your provisioned speed.  Additionally, you will possibly be limited in channel selection with all the much older devices sharing the same clogged up channels.  Sometimes life will be fine, others life will be bad, and you won't really know why.
The 2012 Arris (nee Motorola) SB6141 (the modem I bought 3 years ago) is an 8 channel modem:

SB6141 Cable Modem Status Page Showing 8 Channels
8 channels, bonded together on my SB6141

Not coincidentally, TWC will provision it up to 100Mbps.  The odds of having significant problems with channels being busy at 50Mbps or less with this modem are far, far lower than with a 4 channel modem.  Even if you are paying for minimum speeds, going to 8 channels will help deliver a better experience.  The newest modems that are required for the top tier speeds utilize 16 channels.

2 Devices are Better Than One

Another way people get suckered in is the "I have a modem AND router in one."  This makes me cringe.  First, your router is your gateway between you and the Internet at large.  Ideally it would be a "plug-it-in-and-forget-it"purchase, and that's unfortunately how we tend to treat it, but the reality is:
You really need to pay attention to your router.  If it's not being patched with new firmware, you need to replace it.  Is this something you really want to trust to your cable company?

Beyond that, the combo products include WiFi, which is another problem.  First, you may or may not really want your WiFi access point to be in the same location as your modem.  My modem is in a closet in the back of my house, and in a less than ideal location for WiFi.  Second, if you haven't realized it, WiFi (802.11) is changing relatively rapidly.  The current 802.11ac standard is more and more widely deployed.  Do you want to tie your WiFi, which you may want to upgrade every 2-3 years with your cable modem, which you can probably keep for the next 5-6 years if you do it right?  Also, do you really think TWC cares that much if you're stuck with an older 802.11n device?  At an extra $5/month beyond the modem fee?  Forever?

So What to Buy?

Now that you're (hopefully) convinced that renting is a Bad Idea™, the question remains: what to buy?  My focus for this is on TWC's Maxx rollout, but the advice is applicable to a numerous cable provider networks, and I've tried to link a few of their compatibility pages below:

Conservative: 8 Channels

If your plan is to stay in a 100Mbps or lower tier for the foreseeable future, the 2012 DOCSIS 3.0/ipv6 compliant, 8 channel Arris SB6141 remains a good option.  If you look around a little you can find a used or refurbished one cheap, and things should get better as people upgrading to the latest speed tiers sell their old modems.  Even new, an Arris SB6141 will pay for itself in less than a year compared to leasing.

High Speed: 16 Channels

If your plan is to take advantage of faster tiers, you have a little more of a dilemma.  The Arris SB6183 is a widely supported option that seems to be a safe bet.  It's about 50% more expensive than the Arris SB6141, and is a 16 channel modem that supports the 300 Mbps tier on TWC's Maxx, as well as similar tiers with the other ISP's.  It seems like a no-brainer, but it's not a completely "future proof" purchase, because...

Higher Speed? Better? Someday?  Maybe?: 32 Channels (added 5/7/2016)

Arris now has a 32 Arris SB6190 modem, which wasn't available when I originally wrote this article.  It's not on every cable company compatibility list, but if it's on yours, you might consider splurging ($150 today vs. $95 Arris SB6183) for doubling the channels.  TWC doesn't currently offer better speeds with the SB6190, and I'm told that they will only use 16 channels even if you have 32 available.  Will they someday?  Maybe?  It's hard to say, but you may get more consistent speeds if they were to enable spreading traffic over 32 channels instead of 16 and you wereon the top speed tier, but they don't, so I can't recommend spending the extra $55.  You may think it's worth it for some reason.


In the world of technology there is always something else, and in cable modems it's the DOCSIS 3.1 standard.  DOCSIS 3.1 is going to support speeds more than 10X that of DOCSIS 3.0.  DOCSIS 3.1 is so new that there's really nothing you can go buy today.  Comcast has just started testing it in the field with plans for deployments in 2016, and it's really unclear to me when TWC or others will roll it out.

My guess is that by this time next year there will be a good DOCSIS 3.1 retail option, that it will be relatively expensive, and that most people won't have DOCSIS 3.1 on their cable networks.  That said, the modems will work with DOCSIS 3.0 networks, so you should start to see these modems making it onto compatibility lists so that you can make an informed decision on what to buy, and you could then buy one and be "future proof" for some time.  This same post a year from now would almost certainly say "Invest in a DOCSIS 3.1 modem and don't look back."


What would I do?  I'd probably grab the Arris SB6183 today and sell it when I had a DOCSIS 3.1 option.  That said, I wouldn't blame someone for searching out an Arris SB6141 and biding their time.  Maybe I'd contact the author and see if he wanted to sell his 6141 so that he could justify the upgrade to an Arris SB6183...

Update (8/18/15)

First off, I got my 50Mbps today, so it's rolled out in my part of 75238.  Second, I realized that I can trade in my SB6141 and for a $38 Amazon Gift Card, which eats up almost 1/3 of the cost of the SB6183.  That makes the upgrade cycle much easier once you get off the rental treadmill.

Products referenced in this post:

Amazon Fire TV Stick Part 3: Playing Games

If you're looking for information on playing games, particularly RetroArch, on your Fire TV, I created a new web site that includes the RetroArch guide as well as a lot of other stuff. I hope you like it. For the most current information go to:

If you're specifically looking for information on RetroArch on your Fire TV, here is the article:

If you're specifically looking for information on Game Controllers for your Fire TV, here is the article:

This is the thrilling conclusion to a series on the Amazon Fire TV Stick:
You may recall from my earlier Fire TV Stick posts that I purchased an Amazon Fire Game Controller. The controller has generally become our preferred remote, but that's not why I bought it. I bought it to test playing games on the Fire TV Stick.

One difference between the Fire TV Stick and the regular version of the Fire TV is the processor, with the Fire TV Stick having the weaker processor. Basically, a more powerful processor would take more power and put out more heat, and neither of those things lend themselves to a low power dongle running Android hidden on the back of your TV.

Because of the weaker processor, the number of Android games in Amazon's app store for the Stick compared to the full Fire TV is pretty small, and many of them are OK at best. Out of the box, right after the Fire TV Stick was released and while many developers hadn't had a chance to validate apps, the number of games was ridiculously low.  It has been growing a bit, but we’re really talking about tablet games and not much that is good.  Also, if you're a Kindle Freetime subscriber, you won't find any way to access your Kindle Freetime content from the Fire TV Stick, which is unfortunate.  My son and I have had a few play sessions of Terraria, with him playing on his Kindle Fire HDX 7 and me playing on the Fire TV Stick.  He had a hoot.  I was purely in it for the blog.  Really.

Luckily there is a more awesome reason to buy a controller: Emulators.

Our Fire TV Stick is installed in a TV that has several "classic" game consoles connected to it:
  • An original NES
  • A 3DO
  • An N64
  • A Wii
  • A Wii U
With the Fire TV Stick and the right emulators, you can do a lot more. I downloaded an all-in-one package called "RetroArch" which incorporates emulators for everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo 64, and just about every arcade game from your childhood that you can think of. The kicker, of course, is that it includes the emulators, but not the games themselves. You'll need ROM files extracted from your original game cartridges. Well, you might be able to acquire that Zaxxon ROM file through the magic of the Internet, but legal warning: you should only do this if you actually own the game, as I understand that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act actually gives the creators of software that hasn’t been available for sale for decades the right to execute you and all of your family if you should download an illegal copy.

Once you have a copy of RetroArch and the ROM’s for all those cartridges that you legally own but that maybe you lost/broke when you were 12, you’re going to have to figure out how to get everything onto the Fire TV Stick, a process called “sideloading.” With a tablet, you can just plug it into the USB port and copy files, but with the Fire TV Stick it’s a little trickier. You can use the Android debugging software to transfer the files over your network, or, if you have an Android device (including Kindle Fire tablets) you can transfer the files onto the tablet and use a piece of software called AGK Fire to transfer the files. I used AGK Fire.

Super Mario Brothers 2
I got Super Mario Brothers 2 for Christmas in 1988 because my parents loved me enough to actually hunt down both of the difficult to find games that year: first they bought the last copy of Zelda II in a Sears store (I know, right?), but it was actually stolen from a hotel room and they fought the madness again and luckily found a copy of Super Mario Brothers 2.

I can no longer find the cartridge, but I can play it on our Fire TV Stick.

One disappointing thing I’ve noticed, sideloaded apps don’t seem to play too nice in the Fire TV Stick’s menu system, and you have to go through the app settings menu to launch them, so you have to do a little more work to launch RetroArch than normal apps from Amazon’s app store.  Hopefully this will change, or I'll figure out how to manage it better, because doing it this way means unlocking the parental controls to access the app.  (UPDATE: as noted in my new Fire TV Gaming Guide, Fire OS 5.0.5 handles sideloaded apps much better).

Once in RetroArch, you’ll want to map the buttons on the Amazon Fire Game Controller to get the controls to work the way you want, but after that it’s 8 bit gaming nirvana. I’ve tried NES and Gameboy games so far with really good results. The D-pad on the Amazon Fire Game Controller isn’t as great as the one on the NES, so games like Ninja Gaiden went from harder than heck to impossible with the controller, but many games work really well. Also, games like Zelda require a second controller to save your game, and I haven’t tried to make a second controller work.  Now, you might point out that you can run these emulators on XXX hardware, and you'd probably be right.  That said, for the cost of the hardware, it's a great way to put a bunch of classing games on your fancy TV without cluttering your room.

Would I buy another Amazon Fire Game Controller? I'm not sure.  It probably would no longer be my first choice, as the Sony Playstation DualShock 4 Controller, while a bit more expensive, is a standard Bluetooth controller and supposedly also works well with the Fire TV Stick (only works with full Fire TV, not stick).  It's supposedly an awesome controller.  I plan to borrow one and test drive it, but assuming it works as others have said, that is probably the right direction to go at this point.

Products referenced in this post:
All posts on the Amazon Fire TV Stick:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Amazon Fire TV Stick Part 2.1 Miracast Revisited

If you're looking for information on playing games, particularly RetroArch, on your Fire TV, I created a new web site that includes the RetroArch guide as well as a lot of other stuff. I hope you like it. For the most current information go to:

This is a small update to the second post in a series on the Amazon Fire TV Stick:
In the second part of my Fire TV Stick review I said that since my 2013 Kindle Fire HD 7 didn't support Miracast.  Well, two things changed shortly after that post. First, the 2013 Kindle Fire HD 7 had been having a problem with its battery, shutting off before it reached 0% on its battery meter.  I opened a chat window with Amazon and they said they'd just send me a new one since it was still in warranty. Turns out that the exchange unit they sent me is a brand new Kindle Fire HDX 7. Also a 2013 model (but still in production, unlike its predecessor which had been superseded), this 7" tablet is Amazon's top model, so it's higher end than my son's tablet that was having battery problems.  It uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon System on a Chip (SoC) which is better than the older Texas Instruments SoC in the previous tablet, and it supports Miracast.  Second, and more simply, I was reminded that Windows 8.1 added support for Miracast, so I realized that I ought to be able to test this with a Windows machine.

Kindle Fire HDX

As anticipated, the Kindle Fire HDX 7 supported Miracast.  Essentially you open the settings menu on the Fire TV Stick and tell it you want to use it as a screen mirror.  You open the settings on the Kindle Fire HDX and tell it you want to mirror its screen.  After several seconds (and one of the times I did it after a couple of retries) the two sync up and everything from the tablet screen is shown on the TV screen.  There is a very small delay (maybe 50 milliseconds?) which would probably be pretty disturbing if you were trying to play any action oriented video game.  Honestly, I really don't think a lot of people are going to spend a lot of time using Miracast from their Kindle Fire tablets to their Fire TV's, but it might be handy occasionally.

Windows 8.1 Laptop

Here's an application I could see me using on occasion to toss my laptop's screen easily onto the TV, so I was anxious to test this out.  We have 3 laptops in our house. 2 are owned by employers and neither has Windows 8.1 on it. The 3rd has an older Intel video chipset and doesn't support Miracast.  For a Windows 8.1 machine to support Miracast, the display drivers must support it.  Current generation laptops are going to have this support, but laptops more than a year or two old aren't going to, though there may be better support on older hardware with AMD or Nvidia video chipsets.  Intel is pretty infamous for terrible support of their ubiquitous, but low end graphics chipsets.

So, unfortunately, the one place where Miracast would be useful, none of our hardware provided support.  I will circle back to this when I have something in house that supports Miracast on the PC.

Products referenced in this post:
All posts on the Fire TV Stick:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Setting Up a Minecraft Server on My Synology Rackstation 814+ NAS

Update: I will be maintaining the following page with the most up to date information:


At some point I need to do a writeup on the Rackstation 814+ itself and what all it can do (which is a lot), but today I'm doing a quick post on setting up a basic Minecraft server.  The Synology "DSM" software (basically a customized Linux) allows installation of various packages.  It turns out, someone had created a Minecraft server package, but the package was out of date:

There were pages and pages of comments and I was able to install the package and get it up and running, updated to the latest version, but that seemed like a lousy solution, so... I started with the package provided and created my own, and put it on Github, where other people can contribute to it.

First, if you're just looking to install the package, you can install it from my repository server.

  1. You'll have to install Synology's "Java Manager" first, which is under "Utilities" in Package Center in DSM 5.x.
  2. In the DSM Control Panel, go to User, Advanced, and check "Enable User Home Service."[Added this information 7/1/2015]
  3. After that, go settings and "Package Sources" and set up a new source from this URL:
  4. After that, under "General" you'll have to set your server up to accept "any publisher," and you should see the Minecraft server under "Community.

It should install and start without problems.  Now you have a functioning single world server running on your Synology box and you can start figuring out how to admin it.  There's also a craftbukkit install, but it seems to be a dead end for Minecraft server administration.

Now, if you have issues, the Github project is at:

The repository I'm using can be found at:

Also, my fork is at:

As of 5/9/2015, my version works a little better than the master, but hopefully that will change when the project accepts my pull request for the updates I made.

Help make the world a better place by contributing code.

5/29/2015 Package version 017 is Server 1.8.6
6/27/2015 Package version 018 is Server 1.8.7
8/12/2015 Package version 019 is Server 1.8.8
8/15/2015 Package version 020 corrects 2 issues: deleting old .json whitelist/ops files on upgrade, and log files unavailable from the DSM package manager.
1/1/2016 Package version 021 is Server 1.8.9, reduces RAM usage for many boxes with 2GB or less RAM.  Attempting to address some issues people are seeing with RAM, but it will impact performance a little bit.

Products referenced in this post: