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Review Fire TV Stick December 30, 2014

Fire TV Stick has won the hearts in our household of two generalists and one techie. Google Chromecast may have been my favorite, but I’m waffling. When Amazon offered the Fire Stick for $19 to Prime members, I was one of the first wave who ordered it.

It arrived the first week of December. But, it wasn’t for me. It was for the normals. I’ve cut the cord. I cut it several years ago. I go to reddit for US & World news. I watch movies on Netflix, television on Hulu — all on my Android tablet in HD or on my old laptop. It’s not that I don’t have space for a TV, it’s that if I spend money on more electronics, I’d fill up the house with more gadgets not a TV set.

The thing that has rankled me is that although Amazon had promised a video app for Android, I couldn’t find it. I had a library of Amazon Instant video that I couldn’t access on my Android tablets. I’d bought full seasons of television shows that I could only use on my laptop. It’s five years old. The video was top shelf then, now it’s so-so compared to the HD on my Google Android tablets. That was a problem.

So, when the Fire TV Stick came up for sale, I had to try it, even if it disappointed. You know, it’s a new gadget. I had have one, and yes, Google Chromecast is very good, but I wanted to compare it to the Fire TV Stick. What I found was that in a sense Google Chromecast is more dependable than the Fire TV Stick. It’s easy to set up, it’s uncluttered to navigate from either my Nexus 2012 or 2013 tablet. (I might add that I powered both dongles.) But here’s the thing.

One person in our household has a smart phone, but not a tablet, and he doesn’t want his phone tied up with Google Chromecast, and he’s not comfortable using our tablets. He doesn’t like to navigate from Google Chromecast. The clicker included with Amazon Fire TV Stick makes him happy.

After getting comfortable with the Fire TV Stick navigation and clutter, and it’s extensive options like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime literally at his fingertips, he said, “take a good look because you might never see me again!” He’s an inveterate movie watcher, National Geographic kind of man. The Comcast cable offerings were stale. He’s watched and re-watched the same Sci-Fi offerings. This was big.

As a couple they watched “Hemlock Grove” on Netflix through Google Chromecast on the living room TV in November. This hooked them. They’d been watching some movies on their desktop but the sound was muffled, so to get the Internet entertainment they wanted on a big screen with super sound was, well, big.

In anticipation of the Fire TV Stick device with a real, honest to god clicker, and Fire TV Stick’s decent sized clicker, they bought a new TV set, with of course, the obligatory HDMI connection during the Christmas season at a sale price. It had a larger screen, better sound, and the set didn’t shut off intermittently while they were viewing the nightly news or “Grimm.”

As soon as the new TV arrived, the old TV and Google Chromecast were exiled to the bedroom. It’s getting some play there, but not nearly what the Fire TV Stick has gotten. Now in their third week they’ve found fresh Sci-Fi like “The 100’s”, and “The Fall” among others. Initially, Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove” captured them on Google Chromecast, and but they sat transfixed watching a crapload of stuff on Amazon Fire TV Stick, December, through the Christmas and New Year holiday season.

And, of course we watched “The Interview” on Google Play, me included. If you’re a techie you had to watch Seth Rogen and James Franco chase Kim Jong Un around North Korea. I don’t know about your house, but at our house, Comcast must be feeling lonely, and if other families adapted to the new, inexpensive tools for Internet TV like we have, ignoring Comcast’s offerings, Comcast, too, might be feeling a pinch.

We did have some glitches during Amazon Prime video. Our bandwidth faded during Christmas. I thought it might be hackers using the connection and bandwidth tor DDoS  elsewhere,  but there was a lot of network traffic during the holidays. We had no network connection, except we really did have network connection, Amazon forgot our wireless password, but it really wasn’t forgotten, and we experienced excessive video buffering. The video buffered so much that we unplugged the Fire TV Stick and the routers, half-dozen times. In the three weeks we had the Amazon Fire TV Stick this had happened only a few times. Now the video stopped at least twenty times.

In the midst of the buffering we talked about hooking up Google Chromecast. I got out my older Google Nexus 7 (2012) tablet for the family to navigate to the movie that was interrupted, and that’s when I knew — yes, they were ready to cut the Comcast cord, but no, they weren’t ready to give up the Fire TV Stick clicker. Google Chromecast does not have a clicker. We unplugged the Fire TV Stick once again and plugged it in again, and waited for the interminable buffer to fill up with video.

Intuitive navigation via the clicker was the game breaker at our house even though Google Chromecast probably seems a lot better about not buffering. The second game breaker is that whatever they were watching was free on Amazon Prime. Prime offered delicacies that Netflix and Hulu didn’t have. It completed the cord cutting package. For whatever reason, Fire TV Stick is just convenient. Natural. Music in the cloud and on the radio.

We like a radio station from our old hometown six states away. The music is outstanding. Now we could listen to any radio station on a tablet or phone with speakers, but the convenience of the Amazon Fire TV Stick allows us to listen to our music in the cloud or our favorite radio station on Tunein in a centralized place with rich sound. It’s like Amazon packaged our wants we didn’t know we had and included everyone, techie or not. Now that’s a feat.

This little stick might be Comcast’s worst nightmare. Normals or non-techies can cut the cord and never feel it. So what did I do once the television was free. I watched the Christmas season of ” The Wrong Mans” on Hulu on the Amazon Fire Stick! Sorry Google Chromecast I can just be so loyal.

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I bought a $50 Chinese router from Amazon.

Netgear WNDR 3800 Router

Netgear WNDR 3800 Router, WAN thru LAN with CEROwrt

The WNDR 3800 is a capable router, it’s in good shape, and it works as it should. But, it is a WNDR 3800CH, Chinese router, not a WNDR 3800 NA, North American router. And, it seems more used than I expected, not by appearance but by the fact it was previously commercially owned by a cable company, not an individual. I did finally make this router work with an alternative firmware, which was my goal, but not the alternative firmware I’d originally wanted.

I bought the router to extend my network to a back bedroom, and to follow the EFF CEROwrt open router research and development projects. First I wanted to flash BrainSlayer’s DD-WRT on it, and maybe later, in a few months, play with the cutting-edge CEROwrt firmware. Nothing turned out as I’d imagined. I didn’t manage to flash BrainSlayer’s firmware.

I needed to downgrade the router to an earlier Netgear version, and this Chinese router is finicky about what firmware it accepts, unlike the North American version. And, though the Chinese WND R 3800 CH is cheap, keeping the original Netgear firmware is out of the question, it’s buggy and insecure, not to mention it’s Charter Communication’s firmware, which, if I’m not mistaken, leaves a back door for password changes when a customer cannot access their router.

The WNDR was advertised as new and open box without a setup CD. It came packed in a brown box that said, “used, like new, MADE IN CHINA.” The router was wrapped in clear cellophane with a white label for the Charter Communication’s SSID, MyCharterWiFi6a-2G, and password, cloudycanoe219.

The North American model’s last update was December 2013, and it was V1.0.0.0.48. This Asian model came with V1.0.0.0.51CH, a developer’s version. The guidelines for flashing DD-WRT onto the WNDR 3800 NA suggest downgrading to V1.0.0.0.16 so that the router can be flashed. Netgear added a marker to disallow installation of other firmware on their router after V1.0.0.0.16. I could not get the Chinese router to downgrade from the 51CH version to the earlier version.

I thought about boxing the router up and sending it back – the EFF site states that the CH version does not work with their research project, either. I did, however, find a very good CEROwrt CH version by a developer who changed some code, and engineered an up-to-date CEROwrt 3.10.50-1, with Heartbleed bug update, and other fixes. It’s referred to as the “ready to bake” version. It’s ready for the not-too-timid user to flash their primary router with, and use it day-to-day.

Toronto CEROwrt works great on the WNDR 3800 CH router; it’s tough, and kind of amazing. Turning the firewall on is a rush. It cascades down the page, live. The default password: Beatthebloat refers to removing the bloat to speed up the router, which apparently works. The link is snapon Lab Index of/~Cero2/test-wndr3800CH, and the code name is CEROwrt Toronto 3.10.50-1/LuCl Trunk, build 7/28/2014.

So, now I’m running a very fast TORONTO CEROwrt on the WNDR 3800 CH and wondering how to add a repeater bridge. It seems CEROwrt 3.10.50 CH doesn’t set up bridges in the old sense, it port forwards. It does repeat when I hook it into the Ethernet port on my primary router, the ASUS RT-N16 (TomatoUSB by Shibby). And, the speed tests done with the Netgear hooked into the Ethernet port of the Asus are far faster than done on the Asus alone.

After a week of tinkering, I have a router with an option for MESH, which I don’t yet understand, and a weird type of repeater, which I’m guessing is WAN through LAN (?), where I can plug or connect the Netgear WAN into the Asus Ethernet port 1 and use it for a DUAL LAN. This speeds up the wireless connections and increases signal for all the routers connected including the two additional Linksys routers that are repeater bridges.

The thing I haven’t figured out, is how and if I can add WPA2 to the WNDR 3800 WAN to LAN connection. And, this might not be in the spirit of Openwrt philosophy, but the WNDR 3800 won’t connect with encryption enabled while it’s hooked into the Asus Ethernet Port. Although, it has every kind of encryption combination you might want, and every service you might need, including, Polipio, a light, fast proxy, that runs by default, it can be overwhelming. The interface is slick, it’s professional, an unexpected gift. It’s a perfect fit for the WNDR 3800 CH.

This router wasn’t what I expected, but it’s definitely been fun, and now, it even seems rock solid. I might add there isn’t any going back to the original Netgear firmware after CEROwrt CH is flashed, unless maybe you download the CEROwrt V1.0.0.0.51CH from a developer’s site, which I haven’t tried.

I backed up my original firmware but the CEROwrt declined to restore the backup. I ran a 30-30-30 to make sure old settings were gone. I waited 30 minutes for the flash to finish, and lost patience, and shut the router down. The Netgear router turned on and the lights flashed and I logged back on. The router with the CEROwrt seemed impervious to whatever I tried to do to it for about 4 hours of trial and error, to remove it. So, if you flash it you probably own it.

Would I buy the WNDR 3800 CH again? Yes. I wanted an inexpensive router that I could run alternative firmware on, and I didn’t want to pay over $50 for it. The router works like a new router, and I don’t like that it’s been used as much as it most likely has, but it is a powerful, older router that will most likely allow me to follow the EFF research and development as an offshoot, which will be interesting.

I do wish I hadn’t been surprised by the Chinese router. I don’t remember reading in the description that the router was Chinese not North American. And I’d like to read more war stories from early adopters who use TORONTO and it’s later iterations as a primary home router.