Home Networking Upgrades

Home Networking Upgrades

This has been a lot of years coming.   I’m certainly no home networking guru or sys admin, but I’ve always been a step or three ahead of the common home network setup.  I have about 65 Internet of Things (IoT) devices and home automation.  In my mind “automation” is the operative word.  Push my doorbell, I get a text.  Garage door opens, I get a text.  Motion happens in an empty house, I get a text.  Lights come on at sunset.  .

You need a fairly robust network backing all this hardware up and MOST IMPORTANTLY you need to segregate all those IoT devices from the computers that hold your precious, personal, private data.   I bought a cheap outlet to tie into my home automation.  The person that did the initial hack claimed the device was transmitting data back to some server in China.  Just for fun before I hacked the outlet I put it on the network and began watching the data packets flow to and from the device.  Sure enough, it was communicating with a computer somewhere in China.  I’m sorry, but no device in my home should be communicating with a computer offshore, unless I tell it to.

Your cameras, your IoT devices, and your other internet enabled toys should not be on the same network as your personal data.
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Anker USB C to 2.5 Gbps Ethernet Adapter Review

Anker USB C to 2.5 Gbps Ethernet Adapter Review

I recently upgraded a segment of my home network to 2.5 GB ethernet.  I keep a huge folder on my laptop called “Archive” that has basically every manual for everything I own in it.  Also there’s other junk in there too.  It’s huge, and it takes forever to back up.  In the interest of backing everything up quicker once every week or so I decided to get a 2.5GB ethernet dongle to move those files to my snazzy 2.5GB NAS.  After a bit of research I settled on the Anker USB C to 2.5 Gbps Ethernet Adapter.

Anchor Arms

Sorry.  Every time I see the word “Anker” my mind wanders to the SpongeBob episode where he bought inflatable Anchor Arms.  The goal was to get ripped like Larry Lobster.

And such as it is with me and my network.  I’m trying to get ripped backing up that huge folder quickly somehow or another.

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Netgear MS108EUP Review & VLAN Setup

Netgear MS108EUP Review

And Simple VLAN Setup

Netgear MS108EUP

2.5GB Netgear MS108EUP Router

I just built a new firewall appliance that has four 2.5GB speed ports.  I attached it to a Mikrotek hap ax³ router which also has a 2.5GB port on it.  Then I added in a QNAP NAS which also has a 2.5GB port on it.  To hook them all up together I needed a fast switch and I settled on the Netgear MS108EUP.

You can find hardware with 2.5GP ports on it pretty easy.  But you know what is hard to find?  A 2.5GB network switch that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Somehow or another hardware vendors are making devices with 2.5GB speeds.  Sadly there really aren’t that many switches out there to support the speed..  They went right from 1GB to 10 GB and skipped right over the middle ground.

And while you might be able to find some $100 switches, finding one that is Managed (Smart) is quite a bit trickier.  A managed switch is one that can do other tasks such as Virtual LAN’s (VLAN) among a lot of other tricks.   A VLAN can be used to segregate certain aspects of a network such as the establishment of a Guest Network that can’t communicate with the primary network.   Or keeping HR away from the Operations Department.   You get the drift.
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Mikrotik Router hap ax3 Mini Review

Mikrotik Router hap ax3 Mini Review

Mikrotek router

Mikrotek hap ax3

I’m a sucker for a challenge.  I spent the last week or so shifting from a pfSense firewall to an OPNsense firewall appliance.  Since I was on a networking kick I decided to try my hand with a new Mikrotik Router.  The Mikrotik hap ax3.

Mikrotik has a reputation for making highly configurable routers but they also have a higher degree of difficultly in that configuration.   Setting a router up for the first time can be a bit intimidating if you have never seen anything like this before.

One of the best things about this router is the price.  Go to BestBuy or Walmart and the so called Top Of The Line gear costs 3x’s as much as this router.  I’m not kidding either.  So called “Fast” or “Gaming” routers cost from $300 up to the moon.  These routers are probably not as good or as fast and for sure not as secure as the hap axat $139.

The average home networking user has NOT ever seen anything like this before.  The reason I call this a Mini-Review is because there is just too many steps to document in setting one of these things up.  In fact I won’t talk much about configuration at all.

Rather I will point you to the resources I used to get where I got.   I should also mention that my router is configured as a wifi access point and is located behind an OPNsense firewall on a VLAN port.  My whole point was to make a guest network that cannot communicate with my primary network.   And I have succeeded in that endeavor.

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Verizon Apple Watch – Piece Of Shit Award 2023

Verizon and Apple Watch – Piece Of Fucking Shit

Verizon Apple Watch

POS Award

It isn’t often that I confer my coveted “Piece Of Fucking Shit” Award on something.  Today I give that award to Verizon Apple Watch.

I save it for those really special tech items that defy all logical reasoning.  This is one such case.

My wife and I got married about a year and a half ago but still were on separate cell phone carriers.  I finally got around to getting us on one bill.

She was on Verizon and I had T-mobile.  I moved my phone and an existing Apple Watch Series 5 over to Verizon.  I upgraded my iPhone SE2 to an iPhone 13 which was “free”.

Let’s not get me started on that.  I don’t know what they think “free” means, but it’s not free.

Since I’m moving over and getting a new phone I figure out I might as well get a new Apple Watch Series 8 cellular version.  A lot of people can’t justify the cellular Apple Watch, but I feel like I can.  Even my wife agrees.  I ride a bicycle, generally on 20-25 mile rides and having a cell phone attached to your wrist is a safety feature.  It just is.

The Fun With Verizon Apple Watch Begins

So now I have 2 Apple Watches.  The first one comes with a piece of paper that tells me what the phone number of the watch is.  I pair the watch to my cell phone and during installation it sets it up “as a new device”.  I set it up the only way the prompts allowed me to set it up.

Then I notice it has a new phone number.  I get on a chat with Verizon support and they assure me this is fine.  The watch works. I’m happy.


I contact Verizon and ask them to delete the first line.  And they tell me that if I delete the original number that I have to pay the watch off immediately.  $500.

I swear I should have done this.  After trying to swap the numbers with Verizon my watch showed that it had no eSIM installed.  What followed was 2 tech support sessions about 8 hours in length total.  Keep reading…………..

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pfSense vs OPNsense Hardware Firewall

pfSense vs OPNsense

I don’t think most people give home network security much thought.  Essentially you buy internet from a provider who gives you a modem of some sort.  Then you attach a wifi router to it that you bought from Walmart or Target or even worse, one that the internet provider gives you.  There is only one real way to have any semblance of home network security, and that is to have a hardware firewall.  In this blog I’ll be discussing pfSense vs OPNsense.  Both are free operating systems based on FreeBSD Unix.  Don’t let that scare you though.

Anyway, your Walmart router sits on the shelf near the TV and never gets updated.  Not that it would matter anyway because its security is roughly as porous as Swiss Cheese.  If you don’t believe me take a few minutes to peruse routersecurity.org.  If you dig around that site a bit you might even see my name there in a place or two!

Full Disclosure

Some years ago I discovered hardware firewalls and have not looked back since.  Before i get started here I need to make some clarifying statements.  Firewalls are not bulletproof.  And the success of them depends a lot on them being configured correctly.   Configuring both pfSense or OPNsense requires some level of geekiness and a bit of research to give yourself some modest amount of security.  Even if you are a network security specialist, there are people out there or nation states capable of getting inside your network.
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Cheap Label Printer

Cheap Label Printer

Cheap Label Printer

Zebra LP 2844-Z

So, you have decided to become a re-seller or open your own home business.  Shipping items can be a challenging, and expensive part of your start up costs.   You will soon find out you need a label printer.  A cheap label printer.

A brand new, shiny label printer can cost you upwards of $200.  Some being considerably more expensive than that.  They also may take proprietary paper which drives the costs up even more.

What if I told you there was a cheap label printer out there that could be had for a fraction of the price?  And then what if I told you it could use less expensive, 3rd party, or generic labels?

Zebra LP 2844 Series

The Zebra LP 2844 printer has been around for a while.   The best timeline I can find for a release date is around October 2002 as a replacement for the Bravo 4 printer.   How many electronic devices do you own that have been viable for 21 years?
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Best Thermal Printer For Home Shipping

The Best Thermal Printer For Home Shipping Needs


I have noticed a disturbing trend in review sites.  Google up “Best Thermal Printer” and you’ll find a bunch of pages that say “The Ten Best Thermal Printers You Can Buy in 2023”.  Those pages are full of only stock photos and cherry picked pros and cons from other review sites.

In other words, these people MAY NOT ACTUALLY OWN these printers.   But they will provide you an affiliate link to buy one of “THE BEST THERMAL PRINTERS FOR 2023”.  They get paid, you get bad advice.

You should ALWAYS strive to read reviews from people who actually own, and have used the thermal printers that they write about.

Shipping labels can also be printed from ANY printer on plain paper.  You can put clear tape over your labels.  The only problem here is the continual cost of ink cartridge refills.  This is why thermal printing is so popular for shipping labels.   There is no ink and thermal print heads last for decades most of the time.

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Thermal Printer Selection And Shipping

Selecting A Thermal Printer For Home Shipping

i decided to add shipping from home to my bag of tricks.  That requires having a Thermal Printer.  There are several excellent ones to choose from and lots of comparison and review sites out there.  But all they seem to cover is the printer specs.  That’s good from some aspects but then you get that printer home and realize it doesn’t do all the things you thought it might do.

Thermal Printer

Dymo 5XL

For example, I have a Dymo 5XL.  If I go to the USPS site and create a label the only way to print it on a 4″x6″ label is to download the label as a PDF file, Then take a screenshot of it, and then print from Mac Preview.   It makes no sense to me why I can’t print directly from the USPS website but I can’t.

Then if you go to UPS they have a list of recommended printers that work with their system.  Ditto for FedEx.  There simply isn’t a printer where you can log into any shipping service, make your label and simply hit print.  What works seamlessly at one site will not work at the other without workarounds.

Actually that is kind of inaccurate as you can print with any printer to 8.5″x11″ paper.  But ultimately I want to print on a 4″x6″ adhesive backed label.  This seems to be the standard for shipping boxes.

Shipping Services

As per my example above with the USPS, different services treat the printer differently.  Today I signed up for PirateShip.com and created a UPS label for a box.  Their label was pre-formatted for a 4″x6″ printer.  Click, download, print.  BAM.  It worked perfect on my Dymo 5XL.

Even though everything seemingly is wonderful Pirateship has their preferred printers that they recommend on this page.  They recommend the Brother Q1100 and the Brother QL1100NWB.  They also DO NOT recommend Dymo printers and Zebra printers.

UPS recommends several Zebra printers.  FedEx recommends the Zebra ZP printers mostly.  Nobody seems to recommend the Dymo Printers which of course is what I own.

Which Printer To Choose

It really depends on what service you settle on.   And how often you will need to print.  Does it really matter if you have to do a screenshot and to resize if you only make a label infrequently?

If I decide that I will continue to use Pirateship, then I think my Dymo 5XL will work for my needs.  Consumables are expensive and it is slow and noisy but I won’t even use it once every day mostly.  If I were to print directly from the USPS site, or UPS, or Fedex, or DHL specifically………I would probably need to settle on another printer, most likely a Zebra.

A happy medium might be achieved by considering these items:

  • Cost of Consumables
  • Are Consumables Proprietary to Machine
  • Availability of Consumables
  • How You Wish To Connect Machine – I prefer ethernet
  • What Shipping Service Will You Use

Things I Find Odd

I’m curious why the USPS makes their label available as 8.5″x11″ and don’t offer a 4″x6″ pre-formatted label for printing.  I also wonder why more and more label printers require proprietary labels.  My Dymo LabelWriter will only accept labels that contain an RFID chip from Dymo.  Remember when Inkjet printers were cheap but replacement ink cost more than the machine?  Seems to be the same business strategy at play here.

The last thing I think is odd here is that you would think shipping companies would standardize a bit more. How hard is it to offer your shipping label in a couple of different size formats?  Or how hard is it to optimize for thermal printers or various printer languages?

Fill The Void

I’m no design engineer but I see a gigantic void where someone could design a more seamless and cross platform thermal printer and printer driver.  Toss in the ability to use generic labels, then make it wifi, bluetooth, and ethernet.  BAM! Near perfection achieved.

My Strategy (For Now)

I’m locked into this stupid Dymo 5XL printer, and as much as I’d like to upgrade to a high end Zebra Printer or Brother QL1100NWB it probably can’t happen.  I can’t justify the cost.

My strategy for now is simply to keep the Dymo 5XL.  Its main strength for me is that it is networkable via ethernet.  I have a couple of out of the way corners in my house that have CAT 5 drops near and I can easily keep it out of my way.   As horrific as Dymo Connect software is, the printer works really good with PirateShip.  I don’t have any reason to offer shipping outside of USPS or UPS and both places have drop offs near my house and both places will pick up as well.

If I find I’m selling a few things and can justify upgrade costs, then by golly, I will do it.

Shipping from home is simply not as cut and dried and simplified as I thought it was, or should be.

Dymo 5XL LabelWriter Review

Dymo 5XL LabelWriter Review

Dymo 5XLI have a Dymo 5XL and I figured it was time to do a blog about it.  I am kind of a Dymo Fanboy and own several Dymo Label Makers.  Here is my harem:

  • Dymo LabelManager 160
  • Dymo LabelManager 280
  • Dymo LabelWriter Duo
  • Dymo XTL 300
  • Dymo Rhino 6000+ kit

I like them all but will concede the 160 wasn’t a great value.   The Dymo 5XL falls into that category as well.  Normally, I’d ease into my assessment but I can already tell the Dymo 5XL falls short of my expectations.

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