Crazy Home Wireless and RouterOS VPN Setup

Like most folks, I am generally on wifi.. at the office, roaming around, and of course at home.

So for my home which is 1800 square feet of living space plus a basement and a yard, I wanted good coverage. Plus I am on a hill and like my neighbors and would rather be on my wireless.

Years ago I started offering WiFi in Los Angeles (that business flopped), and I have always had a hacked WiFi AP complete with bridges – even living in an apartment. But for my house, I wanted to do it right and put in Enterprise-level WiFi. So I went with Ubiquiti‘s awesome products (and wish I had bought their stock when I bought my hardware from them.. sigh).

So now I have wireless coverage spanning well beyond my property.  Perhaps one of these days I will post from my iPad while mowing the lawn (if I ever get a lawn tractor..).

Having this amazing WiFi made me a little crazy when I knew it was all connecting into a consumer level gigabit switch and positively ancient WRT54GL hardware – nevermind the tragic US consumer broadband.

So I do have some extra Cisco gear including a few layer3 switches that would be good.. but I am actually trying to conserve some electricity.

So in comes Mikrotik that offers these amazing little routers and a powerful platform.  I ordered a RB2011LS-IN, which has a SFP port for FTTH (Fibre To The Home) – if that ever comes to my neighborhood.

Next comes restoring my VPN services that I rarely used previously, but after shutting down a bunch of my servers in Los Angeles and putting up a 6TB storage array in my house… I have a use for VPN more than ever.  I followed what is mostly common sense and setup L2TP/IPSEC and it worked – I could VPN in.  I even got it working from my iPhone and iPad.  But only a subset of published services were accessible within the network.  So here is my gem to leave you with:

TL/DR: I setup great WiFi and a RouterOS device but the VPN wasn’t working entirely.  The fix – flag your bridge to proxy-arp.  I don’t know why more folks haven’t run into this problem, I saw one howto that said to do this for the ethernet interfaces (which didn’t work for me, but gave me the idea for the bridge).


[admin@border0] /interface bridge> print
Flags: X - disabled, R - running
0 R name="bridge-local" mtu=1500 l2mtu=1598 arp=proxy-arp mac-address=00:0C:xx:xx:xx:DF protocol-mode=rstp priority=0x8000 auto-mac=no
admin-mac=00:0C:xx:xx:xx:DF max-message-age=20s forward-delay=15s transmit-hold-count=6 ageing-time=5m

Grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly

I’ve discovered a decadent PB&J.  This requires a cast iron skillet, and ideally a cast iron weight.


  • 2 Pepperidge Farm New England Style Hot Dog Buns
  • Peanut Butter
  • Strawberry Preserves (fresher the better)
  • Butter

Pre-heat both the skillet and weight.  Open the bun wide and apply a thin layer of butter on the outside of the bun.  Spread peanut butter along the inside of one bun.  Spread the preserves on the other.  Sandwich the two pieces together with peanut butter facing the preserves.

Place the sandwich on the skillet, and the hot weight on top until golden brown.  Flip over.  Grill for another minute.

Slice in one diagonal.  The bun crease will naturally allow you to break the sandwich apart, revealing a warm gooey PB&J blend.

Hurricane Sandy Preparation

This is more of a note to myself for future reference.  Christine and I regularly head to Costco, so we typically have a decent pantry load.  I learned some lessons from Hurricane Irene last year, so here are the items we made sure we had… and some I missed.

  • Batteries – We always have these (Costco), but I bought more at Radio Shack as they were a two for one deal
  • Flashlights – We only have two of these that take batteries we have
  • Water – We already had bottled water
  • Toilet Paper – Already had plenty from our last Costco trip
  • Paper Cups – I bought some of these.. they’re a good thing to have when you don’t really want to be doing dishes by hand
  • Radio – Last year I used a cell phone I bought in India that had a built in FM radio and an ipod dock to play the radio for us to get both news and entertainment.  This year I bought a nifty Grundig shortwave radio (always wanted one)
  • Propane – We have natural gas, but a full tank for grilling is a must
  • Groceries – We have a bunch of canned goods, but having some fruit, cold cuts, bread, bacon, eggs, etc is good.
  • Ice – When we lose power, we need something to put in the cooler to keep everything cold

Beyond supplies, there are actions we took to be better prepared:

  • Laundry – Christine has cleaned everything, so we wont need to do laundry for a long while
  • Dishes – I ran the dishwasher ahead of time to make sure nothing funky is brewing in there while we are without power
  • Charging – Laptops, phones, ipod dock, Kindles, etc are all plugged in and ready
  • Fridge Temperature – Turned that down so it stays cooler longer

Some things I wish I had done and should do next time:

  • Make sure we have dog food.. we happen to have enough though
  • More interesting food… I am not super keen to have cold cut sandwiches for days.. should have picked up some good meat for grilling
  • Corded phone… we have a landline, might as well have a real way to use it without power
  • UPS – Some backup power for the wifi/cable modem would be nice

Office Space Layout

During the last two weeks, I have been working from home a lot more to take care of our new puppy, Piper.  Since I am housebreaking her, I am not working in my office upstairs but down in the living room at the coffee table.  I am sitting on a terrible couch that has lot its firmness over the years.  But butt hurts, so I am constantly squirming and changing positions.  During phone conferences, I typically am standing (or pacing) which is better.

But it has me thinking about office space.  I’ve visited a bunch of offices of start ups and seen some really progressive things.  Yoga balls, exercise desks, really ergonomic setups.  Some have had themes that make me think of Disney World.

Places like Accenture that have consultants that are often tasked out have floating desks.  But typically the nesting urge takes over and folks work at the same desk daily.

Well, I am not looking for a fancy new age environment.. but one thing I would like is some variety.  I suppose it wouldn’t work in reality when most folks what to nest in one comfortable spot.  But that’s what I am craving right now.. the ability to spend a few hours at a normal desk, then maybe move to a stand up station, maybe the next day work in an outdoor space.

Note To Self: When Visiting China Again

I have been in China for just over a week now.  Kodak has a super talented office in Shanghai.  More specifically in the expat-heavy Pudong area.  This is good for me as it means I have access to western things (read: food).  In the neighborhood I can walk to the super-store Carrefour (much like Walmart.. which also exists here but isn’t in my neighborhood).  In there I can buy virtually anything (except pharmaceuticals as simple as Advil..).

Fortunately I have some good friends in China (just spent the weekend visiting one in Hangzhou), but it still can be lonely traveling by yourself to a country where you don’t speak the local language (note to self: learn Chinese).  Even the western folks (read: white people) that I run into are not keen to engage in conversation (they tend not to be English speaking from what I overhear).

The Internet is filtered here (google it, I am not bothering with explaining the details).  And TV is likewise limited.  I brought some books, but there is only so much time you can spend reading.  So I work.. not healthy, but it occupies my time.. and it is a business trip so I might as well give the company their money’s worth.

But I have come up with a list of things for any future trip I have the opportunity to go on (other business trips have never demanded such a list).

  • Bring a USB drive loaded with movies and TV.  An ipad would suffice.
  • Alternatively, I would buy a cheap DVD player and leave it at the office for future stays (and coworkers).  There are lots of DVDs available on the sidewalk.
  • Bring medications.  It’s a huge pain to get over the counter drugs, so just bring plenty.  Coming to a time zone shift such as this (13 hours from New York), you should bring your favourite sleeping aid (normally I go with the pain killer PM version).
  • Bring travelers cheques.  I have never had to bring these before, but I’ve found the ATMs to be a total nightmare in China and my credit cards are not accepted always.
  • Find a way to relieve stress.  The culture and pace here is insane.  The driving is really something (Hangzhou being worse than Shanghai).  Everyone is in a rush.  It’s go-go-go, me-me-me all the time.  I tend to remain relaxed but after over a week it has gotten to me.
  • In the winter months it’s REALLY cold.  The temperature might say 10 degrees celsius (50F) but at least in Shanghai, it is damp.. you feel the cold.
  • It’s really cold.  Bring warm shoes in the cooler months.
  • It’s really cold.  Bring plenty of layers in the cooler months.

All in all, it has been a good experience albeit exhausting.  I highly recommend visiting Hangzhou.. I’ll post pictures eventually.  If you go, stay at the Rulai Free Soul inn.  The location is great and it’s a nice calm retreat.

Some Advice Applying for a Visa for China in New York City

I didn’t take the time to research this ahead of time, I expected the experience to be pretty typical for applying for a travel visa.  It’s something I have to go through pretty much every time I leave the country.  Being South African I rarely can have automatic entry.

Kodak is sending me off to Shanghai to visit our office there… next week.  So off I went to 12th Ave and 42nd St to the Chinese Consulate.  I googled their web site and printed out the form (which has to be completed within Acrobat, not hand written).  I also had a letter from the Kodak office in China stating the purpose of my visit clearly.  The web site didn’t list a whole lot of other requirements (unlike India, but that is another story).

So I get up extra early today and hop on the train.  The web site I did find advised against going after 10am because it gets busy then.  Well, I think everyone sees that and goes early!

First step was to get a photo.  I did see some comments online that they can be strict about passport photos – plus I was too lazy to go to CVS ahead of time.  So I head over to the photo man in there, who declined to speak to me and instead used cardboard signs with printed english.  I suppose that avoids a lot of repetitions.  It was somewhat painless, though I don’t recommend anyone looks at the resulting photograph!  I will not be posting mine online to share.

So I wait in a very slow moving line for a couple of hours before I make it to the window.  Meanwhile I keep seeing folks leaving the windows to go use an old copy machine to photocopy things like their passport and returning to other lines.  The lady behind the glass was pleasant enough to smile, but after looking at my form and speaking with another lady handed me a highlighted piece of paper stating that I filled out the wrong form and here is the web site to go and get the right form.  I ended up there for two multiple-hour visits (with a break for lunch.. they close from 12:00-13:00h).  Don’t be me.

So my advice is this:

TL/DR – Make sure you have the right forms – bring a photocopy of your passport and green card

Modelling a House in 3D Using Sketchup (Part 1)

My mind is racing with too many things right now.. so let me get to the point.  I found a great online tutorial for creating a 3D model of a house in Google’s very awesome Sketchup tool (grab it here:

I started thinking about it because Christine and I are going through the process of buying our first home.  We’re using the best realtor in the world, Jenny Buchanan – and the best mom in the world.  It’s new construction, which gives us the rare opportunity of actually having architectural plans for the home.  Being the model home, we didn’t pick and choose the changes to the plans, but the copy of the plans I have are close enough for me to work with.

Next step, I am going to scan the plans into my Mac.  From there I will trace everything into Sketchup.  I am so glad I stumbled onto this tutorial because I was going to just do it from scratch.. and tracing is so much more efficient!

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