The Setup

Wed February 05 2014 by Christopher Aedo

Over the years I have been continually refining my home technology stack.  It's in the best state it's ever been, so I figured I should document it.  I'm looking forward to looking back at this post in a few years to see what's evolved, and what's still the same.

External connection - Verizon FiOS.  It's usually pretty good.  Unfortunately it seems like they keep edging the price up a few dollars at a time.  But there's no alternative if I want reasonable speed.  Wouldn't it be nice if there were more options?  There should be!

Firewall/WAP - Home-built ALIX/pfSense.  It's just plain awesome.

Cell phone - We're using Republic Wireless with the Moto-X.  Also just plain awesome.  The phone is the best I've ever used.  The service isn't perfect, but it's close, and it gets better all the time.  The price is unbeatable.

Land-line - Cancelled it so many years ago I don't even remember when.  We do have phones in the house that are fantastic, and the service is free.  I've had a google voice number since the early early days, and bridge it with an OBiTalk VoIP adapter.  This \$38 adapter from Amazon works beautifully.

TV/Video - Cancelled satellite subscription six or seven years ago and have been using a 2nd gen AppleTV for quite a while.  It's bad for your brain but I just can't quit it.

Video content and automation - The non-Netflix content is served off a RaspberryPI with a 1.5tb USB drive attached to it.  I'm pretty sure it's close to the most energy efficient solution.  In the past I've run full-size PCs with lots of internal disks, or once (for a year?) the content lived on a Drobo.  Operating systems experimented with included OpenSolaris, FreeBSD and Linux.  Always lots of moving parts, and over time, usually a hassle of one sort of another.  Since moving to the pi, I've also added an X10 USB dongle (so a simple script turns on the outside light at sunset, turns it back off at midnight - christmas lights were similarly managed, etc.)

Retrieving content - OK, this part is being shared solely for academic purposes.  (I am sure it's against the rules to grab torrent content because that's what pirates do, obviously.  Even if it's just a show that was broadcast over the open airwaves, and could have been delivered to you nearly identically by a neighbor with a VCR.)  I am running this script on the raspberry pi, which regularly checks for new episodes of any show we specify, and if found, automatically starts up the download.

Backups - I used to back the laptops up to the file server, which was why I always had a box set up with raid-5 or raid-z.  Once upon a time though, two drives in the drobo failed at the same time and it took me way longer than it should have to get that data back.  After that, I switch to CrashPlan.  It's been awesome, and has been used to recover all content from lost hard drives twice.  Because it saves incremental snapshots as well, I've even used it to pull back a previous version of a file on a few occasions.  We have a family plan shared with my family and a friend, so the actual cost per machine being backed up is about \$2/month.

All together, it's a very simple setup, and the hardware components should last a good long time.  It's also completely portable (only requirement is an internet connection).  The TV side is also easily expanded - if you have multiple TVs, you still have a central repository of content (just need additional AppleTVs!)  Grabbing shows is completely automated just like with a fancy DVR (though I'll admit it's not as convenient - but maybe the next step will be for me to bolt a web-UI in front of the show grabber!)