Sunday, May 3, 2020

Review: TP-Link AC2600 Range Extender 650 Wifi Extender

This is my review of the TP-Link AC2600 Range Extender 650 Wifi Extender.

Spotty Connectivity was Cramping my WFH Style

I recently decided I needed to improve my work-from-home Internet situation. I work for a big tech company (Amazon) and fast, reliable connectivity is something I need to have every day. With multiple family members spending a lot of time streaming and conferencing, we needed more bandwidth. Most important of all, I needed to resolve the poor connectivity from my home office to the family room where our fiber modem is. On some days I would lose connectivity every few minutes during business hours, which is particularly maddening during a video meeting.

To combat the bandwidth problems my wife Becky got on the phone with our Internet provider Frontier and worked wonders. She not only secured the maximum bandwidth available (for only $5/month more!) but also scored an equipment upgrade for the modem. A speed check on was showing 80 Mbps near the router but I was getting only 10-15 Mbps in my home office. That went up a bit after the bandwidth upgrade but was still a far cry from what it should be. To reach my home office I would need a wifi extender, but which one? I read up a bit on wifi extenders and ordered the TP-Link AC2600 Range Extender 650 from Amazon for $108.

Enter the TP-Link RE650

I received the RE650 4 days after ordering it and rushed to unpack it and set it up. I had the notion this would be a pair of devices with an Ethernet cable, but it's actually just a single unit that you plug into an outlet and no cables are needed. There are two flip-up flat antennae on either side.


My first impression of the RE650 was that it strongly reminded me of The PKE Meter in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters! After prancing around the house pretending I was Egon for a few minutes, I returned to the serious business of setting up our new wifi extender.

Wifi Extender or Specter Detector? You Decide


The RE650 comes with an easy setup that is nicely documented and there are several ways to configure it: with a phone app, by pressing the WPS button available on some routers, or using your computer. I chose the latter. You initially plug in the unit near your router and wait for the power light to appear. A new wifi network appears that you can connect to for a web-based configuration. The configuration experience is very simple with just a few pages.

The quick setup lists your detected wifi networks, from which I was able to select my router's 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks and provide their passwords. You then name your new wifi extender networks. Be careful here, the setup program will default to the same names as your router's networks and I found that a little confusing. You almost certainly want new names to distinguish your wifi extender networks from the original networks.

I expected to be able to set new passwords for the extended wifi networks but apparently that's not an option and you keep using your original network passwords; perhaps that's intentional for security.  Once you have the configuration done, you connect to the new wifi extender networks and confirm setup is complete.

Despite the overall good quick setup design, it did take me 3 attempts to configure the RE650 and I started over twice with a factory reset (you use a pin for that).

Finding the Optimal Location

With the RE650 configured, you then unplug it and find a home for it about halfway between the router and the dead zone you want to extend coverage to. That means reviewing where your outlets are and trying to find your best option.

Although I didn't use it for setup, I did install the phone app afterward which is handy. It includes a Location Assistant tool for checking signal strength. I had three places to choose from, found the best one, and that was that.

A speed test from my home office (on the 5G wifi extender network) now shows 70-80 Mbps, an amazing improvement from the 10-15 Mbps I was seeing a week ago. Best of all, I don't have spotty connectivity anymore. Depending on what you're used to you may not consider 80mbps all that speedy— some of my co-workers have ten times that!— but I live in a rural area and have limited options. I'm fortunate to be on fiber.

Before and After: a huge improvement

Day 1: Life is Good

My first day on the new setup was fantastic. I stayed connected and enjoyed much higher speed than I'd ever had from my home office. If only things stayed that way...

Day 2: Connectivity, Interrupted

On Day 2 that all changed. I had 4 hours of video conferences and they were terrible: garbled video/audio and dropped connections. Connectivity was constantly dropping. I couldn't understand how this could be since the prior day had been so perfect.

I researched what others were saying about the RE650, specifically around connectivity interruptions. A number of people had experienced the same things, and many of them ended up returning the range extended; had I made a mistake? I kept researching. There was advice to change the channel and channel width on the main router. I'd never really worked with routers to that level but I learned how to access my router and view/edit its settings. For the 5GHz network, channel was set to Automatic. Perhaps there was interference from a neighbor? I reviewed the ports available in setup and chose the highest port at random, 165. Then I reconnected to the wife extended to see how things were. I watched Twitch for an hour to see if there would be any video interruptions. I stayed connected, which was reassuring, but I also saw bandwidth was lower: a speed test showed I was now in the 30-40 range. I'd lost half my speed.

More research. Channel width lets you increase throughput. My router admin UI said the channel width was 20, but I'd heard routers could do 40 or even 80 in 5GHz. I didn't see a way to set width, however. Finally I tried changing to a different channel, 36, and the UI now showed a width of 80. I reconnected to my extended wifi network and ran 100mbps! the highest I had seen yet from my home office. But, how was connectivity? I watched video on Twitch for 90 minutes and didn't have any connection loss. Promising, but the real test would be videoconferencing at work the next day.

In summary, the RE650 is a nicely-designed, easy to install wifi extender that works well. If you need to extend your wifi to a dead zone or improve spotty connectivity, it's a good choice.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Bad Charting Part 4: Following Conventions

This is Part 4 in a series on avoiding the pitfalls of bad charting. In this final post of the series we'll look at the importance of following conventions in charts, including use of color and the use of 3D in charts.


Conventions. Without them, useful communication is impossible: humans couldn't converse, publish, collaborate, or have discourse (civil or otherwise) without conventions. And so it is with charts: fail to follow conventions, and you'll be sending the wrong message. If you're digesting a chart prepared by someone else, be on the lookout for flouting conventions: it's one of the ways a chart can be rigged to send a contrary message to the story the data tells. In Part 1, we mentioned how makers of infographics often don't feel constrained to "follow the rules" in their charts. Violating conventions is one of the chief offenses.

Directional Flow

The flow of things on your chart, including arrows, should conform to the culture of your audience. For example, the following are deeply ingrained in Western culture, to the point where few people even bother to think about them consciously: they're just understood.

Time moves left to right, always. Going up means more, gain, or north; down means less, loss, or south. Fail to follow these conventions, and people will struggle to understand your visuals. Targeting a different culture than yours? Do your research and find out what they consider normal.

Here's the most egregious example I know of ignoring conventions. What does this chart make you conclude about the effect of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law? Gun deaths appear to drop rapidly after 2005.

Now think about what we covered previously about the importance of accurate chart axes, and take a look at the Y axis tick markings: they're upside down! This chart is effectively inverted, because it fails to follow the convention that up means more.

On a Map, Darker Map Shades Mean More

Consider a map that is conveying data, such as which US states make the most revenue. The convention is that darker shades mean more (greater density or higher amounts).

In the map chart below, darker blue shades were used for lower export profits and lighter green for higher. It's the opposite from most maps of this kind. This doesn't make the chart evil, but it is flouting a convention. If the shading scale was reversed, readers would get what the map is trying to convey more readily. Every time you go against a convention, you up the chance someone will get the wrong message.

Use of Color

If you're just trying to select two colors for showing last month's expenses vs. this month's expenses, color choice might not seem very important, but it can be. It helps to understand how your audience perceives color so you can use it to support the story your chart is telling. We'll talk about some of the meanings attached to colors by different groups. First though you should understand that it's a mistake to rely solely on color to communicate something: a substantial number of people are colorblind (and many don't even know it). Always accompany color with other visual cues. Here's how a colored chart might appear to a colorblind person:

Color might appear to be one of those worldwide or east/west cultural matters, as in "Western culture associates red with danger"—and it is, to some degree. Then again, red is often used to communicate other things like excitement or Communism to that same audience. 

Like most things, going extreme in color will make your chart worse, not better. Avoid too many colors or strong saturated hues: it's the color graphics equivalent of shouting. If you practice restraint in your general color palette, then you can highlight something really effectively with a stronger color.In the two charts below, is the color chart on the left easier or harder to perceive than the grayscale version to the right? I find the color chart loud and ugly with colors that distract rather than help. The grayscale chart is effective without the color.

Different groups attach different meanings to color, known as Color Biases. Speaking broadly, western culture audience will attach any of these associations to colors:
  • Blue: trust, security, peace, coolness
  • Green: nature, freshness, luck, environment, wealth, inexperience, jealousy
  • Orange: warmth, harvest, light, heat
  • Purple: power, royalty, ambition, independence
  • Red: warmth, excitement, passion, love, danger
  • Yellow: joy, value, sunlight, caution, cowardice

We can't stop there however. Many industries also have color biases, and failing to know that could really upset how chart colors will hit your audience.You might be inclined to use green for good things and red for bad, but to someone in health care green means infected and red means healthy! It's worth getting to know your audience, and one easy way to do that is to examine how charts in their industry are commonly colored and labelled.
  • In Finance: blue is reliable/subdued, green is profitable, yellow is highlighted/important, red is unprofitable
  • In Health Care: blue is dead, green is infected, yellow is jaundiced, red is healthy
  • To Control Engineers, blue means cold/water, green is safe, yellow is caution, red is danger


There's only one rule for using 3D in your charts and it's very simple: don't do it, ever. Why, you ask? Making that bar chart or pie chart into 3D adds a nice touch, you might argue. Let's see. Look at the two pie charts below. Who sold the most in Q1? And who sold the most in Q2? When I asked this question the last time I presented on charting, many people said Paul (blue) sold the most in Q1 and Bryan (orange) sold the most in Q2. 

In fact, these are two pie charts of the same data (below), simply with a different rotation. Paul and Bryan have exactly the same sales. The 3D effects break the visual contract that normally gives a pie chart its power: your eye and brain interpreting the relative proportions of the visual elements. That's completely demolished by a 3D pie chart. There's no greater evil in the charting world.

In the 3D column chart below, your first impulse is to see the green 1997 value as way smaller than the red 1995 value. You can intellectually understand there's perspective in the graphic, but a reader's first take on the chart is still going to be misleading.

3D column chart

There's simply nothing to be gained by making your charts 3D. Promise me you won't do it.


This series was inspired by the first resource I came across about deceptive charting, How to Lie with Charts by Gerald Everett Jones. Now in its fourth edition, Gerald has kept his book current with new material on topics like fake news and social media disinformation.

Well, that's it for this series. I hope you now feel well-equipped to detect misleading charts when you encounter them, and to avoid being misleading in the charts you create.