The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Wireless' Category

MetaGeek, Hard Not to Love/Hate this Company

Posted by Deliverator on 5th March 2008

MetaGeek makes a neat little gadget called the WiSpy, which is basically a poor man’s spectrum analyzer for the 2.4 ghz band. A spectrum analyzer shows you a realtime graph of radio power vs frequency. Because the 2.4 ghz band is used by a plethora of different consumer wireless devices including 802.11b/g/n WiFi gear, cordless phones, wireless security cameras, baby monitors, wireless home theater speaker systems, microwave ovens, etc., I often encounter interference issues between these disparate devices. The WiSpy has come in particularly handy for me while setting up or troubleshooting wireless networks for clients. I’ve had clients whose wireless networks drop out sporadically. With the help of the WiSpy, I’ve been able to demonstrate to clients in a visually convincing way that they need to get a new phone (or in the case of non spread spectrum devices, change the channel), or that their microwave oven is leaky.

I purchased a WiSpy from Ken from Metrix after seeing him play with one at SWN Hacknight. I paid around $100 for my WiSpy. At the time I purchased mine, there had long been promises of an improved version with an external antenna connector (useful because you can plug in a directional antenna and use it to track down a specific signal source), more rapid frequency hoping, and finer frequency and power discernment, but the company had failed to deliver on their announcements and people were becoming skeptical. The existing WiSpy did what I wanted, so I paid my $100 and was happy to do so. Several people including Rob Flickenger hacked their units to add an external antenna jack. In doing so, they discovered that inside the Wispy’s custom plastic case was a generic, notebook style, wireless mouse dongle. There was even a button on the PCB that one would press to associate it with the non-existent mouse. In essence, version 1 of the WiSpy was $5 of non-custom hardware and the other $95 was going towards the software.

At some point, MetaGeek decided that the WiSpy (which was still the same old mouse dongle + software) was now worth $200. The software, called Chanalyzer has always been a free download from their website for existing owners and has steadily improved over time both in terms of stability and in features. I’ve been using the 3.0 version of the Chanalyzer software for quite some time now with my mouse dongle/WiSpy and the software was finally feeling mature. Metageek finally got around to introducing the long promised version 2 of the WiSpy hardware, which it is calling WiSpy 2.4x. The modest bump in functionality (for most users) on the 2.4x comes with a 4x increase over the WiSpy’s original price to $400. This puts it well outside the geek toy price range and I know this move disappointed a lot of the original WiSpy’s userbase. Now, a lot of WiSpy users are up in arms as the latest versions of Chanalyzer 3.0 no longer supports the version 1.0 Wispy. The way that MetaGeek went about doing this was damn sneaky too. I fired up Chanalyzer today to troubleshoot an interference issue and was greeted with message stating the a new version of the software was available. Upon upgrading, I was locked out of using Chanalyzer with a message stating more or less that Chanalyzer was no longer supporting the original WiSpy, but I could upgrade for a mere $300 if I wanted to continue using Chanalyzer or would have to downgrade to Chanalyzer 2.x if I wanted to keep using my WiSpy.  MetaGeek’s response to one p’d off user was less than helpful. They cite typical hand-wavy difficulties in continuing in supporting a single codebase across multiple hardware platforms going forward…yada yada yada. I can understand that going forward they want to emphasize support on their current product line, but the point is that they already have a 3.0 version which works well with the version 1.0 hardware. To suddenly force WiSpy 1.0 users into either a significant downgrade in functionality or to pay a very heft $300 has all the appearance of a dirty money grab. Pulling the carpet out from under a customer in an extent to further shake their pockets is never a smart move imo and could very easily backfire. The WiSpy 1.0 hardware already functions quite well with several third party software packages. EaKiu for the Mac is particularly impressive. I can very easily see a backlash to MetaGeek’s behavior in the form of one of these software packages going out and simply supporting a commonly available mouse dongle. The equivalent of WiSpy 1.0 hardware for $30 or less combined with free software would satisfy most people’s use cases for the WiSpy and would probably result in a large scale loss of customers for MetaGeek. The only equitable action imo is for MetaGeek to allow WiSpy 1.0 users the option of continuing to use the last compatible build of 3.0 as an unsupported option.

That about wraps it up in the hate department. On the love side, MetaGeek recently released a free utility called Inssider (not a misspelling) which is a slick wireless network detection utility. It is obviously designed as a replacement to Netstumbler on the Windows platform.  Netstumbler has not seen a new release in a long time and doesn’t work with a lot of the newer Wifi cards or on Vista. The release of a viable alternative on the Windows platform is welcome news indeed. Inssider is not yet up to par with Kismet in a lot of ways, but the two aren’t really direct competitors and will probably both find their uses. It is pretty hard to complain about free, anyways (although I usually find a way).

Posted in Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Wireless | 2 Comments »

Greetings from floor 12

Posted by Deliverator on 27th February 2008

Today I drove to Portland with TRC members in preparation for the First Robotics PNW regional which starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday. This year, due to a convergence of various conferences on the Portland area, we ended up having to stay at a different hotel, DoubleTree Portland – Lloyd Center. The Internet situation is somewhat less than ideal here. The DoubleTree offers free wifi, but only in the lobby. They have data jacks in the rooms, but they are decidedly non-free. A LOT of TRC members wanted to get online from their rooms, so Paul, Jonathan and I whipped up a combination of strategically placed access points, bridges and various oddments to share out my N95’s EDGE connection to everyone. It isn’t fast by any means, but it seems to be holding together and is giving everyone a chance to check their email, download various FIRST game manuals and last minute addenda.

Posted in Titan Robotics Club, Wireless | No Comments »

Kodak EasyShare EX1011 Wireless Picture Frame

Posted by Deliverator on 24th January 2008

I’ve been doing a lot of digital photography over the last few years and have also spent a good deal of time scanning in old slides and negatives using a high end Nikon LS-5000 scanner, yet for the most part these pictures have languished idle on my hard drive. Sort of the digital equivalent of all those slides that I worked so hard to scan! Like every other shopper this past Christmas shopping season, I found myself bombarded by cheap, import digital picture frames everywhere I looked. Hell, the grocery store was even carrying these things. I’d set up a number of digital picture frames for clients and spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with display models, enough to realize that nobody has come up with a refined, completely well thought out design. I knew I wanted a model with wireless built in, but unfortunately nobody seems to have quite got that right either. I strongly considered a wireless enabled model from estarling as the ability to subscribe to rss feeds and to email photos directly to the device had a lot of appeal, but balked after seeing the number of extremely poor reviews on Amazon. In the end, I purchased a wireless enabled 10″ model from Kodak. Here are my thoughts:

  • Screen has nice color representation, but like many cheap LCDs has poor off-axis viewing.
  • immediate surround of the frame is gloss black plastic which within a few days attracted enough dust to knit a sweater.
  • Comes with a small, easy to use remote control. Buttons for some of the functions are available on top of the screen, but not all functions are available this way, making the remote a must. There is a plastic clip which you can insert into some holes on the back of the device, which can be used to hold the remote, but you can’t use the clip if you hang the device.
  • Hanging mechanism is designed for a single nail and the screen isn’t well balanced to begin with. Extremely hard to keep level, especially given that the cord hangs off to one side.
  • The Kodak models with wireless built in do not have a dedicated USB host port, but rather a Mini-USB port which can be configured to act as either a host port or to connect the frame as a mass storage device to transfer pictures from a connected PC. The box includes a Mini-Full size A adapter for plugging in a USB Flash Drive, but it extends well outside the frame boundary, so don’t even think about leaving it attached, which means yet another small doohickey to keep on hand.
  • Power adapter is of the type that blocks an adjacent outlet on a power strip and cord length is shorter than desirable. Poor choice of jack location pretty much ensures that your frame will lean if you hang it.
  • Supports SD/SDHC and Compact Flash (including microdrives), which is basically all I care about. Other formats supported, but some only with adapters.
  • Supports resizing transfered images to the frames 800*480 resolution. If you are going to store your pictures on the device’s limited 128MB of built in flash, then this is pretty much a must. Unfortunately, their resize algorithm yields extremely blocky, pixelated images and leaves much to be desired in other ways. For example, if you insert a memory card with a 50 high resolution images (say 3 MB each) the frame’s software will attempt to transfer all the selected pictures to the frame’s internal memory before attempting to resize the images, rather than transferring a few, resizing, deleting the copied original and then going back for more. The result is that the frame just pukes and aborts the whole operation. You are better off avoiding Kodak’s crappy copy and resize implementation altogether and just batch resize your images on a PC before transfer. This does kinda negate the point of being able to just insert a camera card and transfer without having to use a PC.
  • The support for modern wireless security standards seems rather limited/flaky. It is supposed to work with WPA PSK once updated to the latest firmware, but I was not able to get it to work with my WRT54GL and ended up having to associate it to less secure WEP (paper bag) encrypted access point which I keep firewalled away from my critical systems. Once associated, the frame found my ORB server and I was able to wireless stream photos to it that way. There doesn’t appear to be any easy way to simply use the wifi to simply transfer pictures to the frame’s internal memory. One can use the wifi feature to browse Kodak’s own online gallery service, but the frame doesn’t work with any other popular photo services like flickr.

Sadly, even given all my gripes with the EX1011, it is almost certainly one of the best wireless picture frames on the market today. Digital picture frames have been on the market for a few years now and one would expect a higher degree of refinement by this point. I guess this just leaves open yet another high profit margin consumer market into which Apple will swoop and release an iFrame.

Posted in Media, Photography, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Wireless | 6 Comments »

WRT54GS v5 is DD-WRT Capable

Posted by Deliverator on 20th January 2008

I recently acquired a free WRT54GS. I looked on the back and saw that it was a version 5. Version 5 of both the WRT54G and GS was when Linksys switched from Linux to VxWorks on these models, simultaneously slashing the onboard ram and flash from 32 MB ram and 8 MB flash on earlier models of the GS to 8 MB of ram and 2 MB of flash. 2 MB of flash is not much space in which to fit an OS, but the DD-WRT project has released a special Micro version of their router distro which will fit, albeit with somewhat less functionality than the standard, vpn and voip versions of DD-WRT. Converting a version 5 GS model from VxWorks to DD-WRT Micro involves flashing a couple intermediary preparatory firmware images through the webadmin interface, and then tftp uploading the DD-WRT Micro firmware as a final step. I simply followed the steps outlined here and had my GS v5 running DD-WRT in about ten minutes.  As an added bonus, it appears that Linksys used 16 MB ram chips in the version 5 and some 5.1 versions of the GS and simply disabled access to the other 8 MB in their firmware and that flashing these units with DD-WRT will re-enable this missing 8 MB.

I still recommend that those looking for a decent home router go with a WRT54GL or a Buffalo WHR-G125, but if you purchased one of these “neutered” G and GS models before news of the change got around, you might not be totally out of luck.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Wireless | No Comments »

Buffalo WHR-G125 Widely Available

Posted by Deliverator on 24th July 2007

The Buffalo WHR-G125, mentioned previously here, is now widely available at mainstream electronics retailers in the US. I have seen it for sale at Circuit City, Frys and Best Buy for around $50. Unfortunately, I have yet to see its big brother, the WHR-HP-G125 for sale at any local retailer. The WHR-HP-G125 is otherwise the same as the non HP version, but has an integral amplifier and an external antenna port that make it more useful for a variety of uses. At $50, the WHR-G125 is probably the cheapest, widely available option for those wishing to run DD-WRT.

Posted in General, Wireless | No Comments »

Buffalo WHR-G125, a possible replacement for WRT54GL for use with DD-WRT.

Posted by Deliverator on 15th June 2007

The WRT54GL has long been a staple for low cost, custom use wireless projects. Some of the chief factors for its popularity were its low cost, widespread availability and robust functionality provided by 3rd party firmware projects like DD-WRT and OpenWRT. Previously, these 3rd party firmwares were targeted at the WRT54G/GS, but Linksys drastically crippled these devices as of about hardware revision 5, introducing externally identical models by the same name but with drastically decreased internal flash and ram. Linksys kept the price on these new, less capable WRT54G’s and GS’s the same and shortly thereafter introduced a new model, the WRT54GL. The WRT54GL is essentially hardware identical to a pre-nerf WRT54G version 4. Unfortunately, the WRT54GL has not been as widely stocked as the pre-nerf WRT54G’s. Also, Linksys decided to raise the price on what they used to sell for around $50 to more like $70. I currently know of 3 stores in the greater Seattle area which stock the WRT54GL: Fry’s in Renton, Computer Stop and Amazon. These stores usually only keep 3-6 of these on hand, so a single person coming in with a “project” in mind can wipe out their stock for weeks on end. These factors have caused many people to look for a replacement for the WRT54GL.

A recent post on the DD-WRT announcements page reveals that a possible sucessor may have been found in the Buffalo WHR-G125. This model is just coming onto the market as a replacement for Buffalo’s previous WHR-G54 series and should be widely available via mainstream retail channels soon. The WHR-G125 has a lot going for it. It is inexpensive at a mere $46, contains 4 MB of flash and 16 MB of ram like the WRT54GL and features both a faster processor and a more modern, more sensitive WiFi chipset. There will also be a high power version of the product for $20-30 more, which contains an amplifier and detachable antenna, but is otherwise identical.

I managed to pick one of these up at Fry’s the other day and have been putting it through its paces, since. The WHR-G125 has been supported by a new beta build of DD-WRT for about a month. Flashing DD-WRT onto a Buffalo WHR-G125 involves a different flash procedure than the WRT54GL. I initially tried simply uploading the dd-wrt firmware through the web interface, but apparently the web interface rejects non-certified firmware uploads. I had a hard time finding instructions on flashing the WHR-G125 specifically, but eventually found some generic flashing instructions for Buffalo devices on the DD-WRT wiki which proved successful. Essentially, you need to tftp the firmware image to the device immediately after applying power. There is a pretty narrow window during which the device will accept a tftp upload. I found the timing which worked for me to be “connect ethernet to a LAN port > pull the power plug > press and hold the reset (“INIT”) button > start the TFTP > plug the power back in > let go of the reset button.”

I am not quite ready to substitute this new router for my tried and true WRT54GL, but even with beta code, it has proven stable to about as much abuse as I could throw at it. This will hopefully prove to be a new device to add to the bag of tricks.

Happy experimenting!

Posted in Tech Stuff, Wireless | 1 Comment »

The (almost) $100 computer

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd May 2007

At recent SWN Hacknights, the NorhTec Microclient Jr. has come up quite frequently in conversation. The Microclient Jr is an extremely small PC with a 200mhz x86 processor, 128 MB of ram, sound, usb, vga, ps2 and all the typical ports one would expect on a PC and is capable of booting from a variety of devices including CF, USB devices, hard disk and even PXE network boot. The small size of this device (it can even attach directly to a VESA standard mounting bracket like…the back of a monitor), good connectivity options and rock bottom price make it a very attractive platform for embedded projects, thin clients and other assorted hijinx.

Norhtec Microclient JR Interior

The Microclient Jr is available in a couple different configurations, including one with a wifi card and/or two serial ports. The Microclient in its most basic version sells for $120 in small quantities, but supposedly this shrinks to $90-100 in sufficiently large quantities. Given that NorhTec ships their units from Thailand, the $40-50 shipping cost for small orders really eats into the platform’s attractiveness. Thankfully, I found out that the Microclient JR is also sold rebranded as the eBox 2300 and is available via a couple US distributors. Not only does this cut the shipping cost and time down significantly, but most of the distributors are selling it even cheaper than Norhtec. I ordered mine from WDL Systems with two serial ports and an open mini-pci slot (for self installed wifi) for $150 with two day shipping. Both Northtec and WDL Systems sell the Norhtec in a configuration with WiFi preinstalled, but their solution is based on a VT6655 chipset, which has poor compatibility with Linux 2.6 series kernels, so I chose to leave the slot open and add something with better support.

I look forward to receiving my Microclient JR soon. I have a number of projects in mind for which I believe it should prove suitable. If so, I will probably be purchasing a few more.

Addendum – Ordered a Ubiquiti XR2 mini-pci card and pigtail from Matt’s company, Metrix.

600mw Ubiquiti XR2

Amusingly, these two items cost more than the computer itself. The card is rather expensive at $130, but it has a lot of novel and even unique features including:

-600mw transmit power. Most previous generation “best of breed” cards like those from Senao maxed out at about 200mw. By contrast a lot of the solutions integrated by OEM’s into laptops are in the 30-80mw range. This card is the current reigning Border Blaster of 802.11.
-Excellent receive sensitivity…just because you are blasting 600mw out to the AP doesn’t mean it is blasting 600mw at you :)
-Uses a more robust mmcx connector. Most mini pci wireless cards use a much smaller Hirose/U.FL connector which isn’t as mechanically robust. In fact, the manufacturer only rates U.FL as good for 30 couplings, and that is assuming you don’t break the connector by tweaking the cable to which it is connected. I would prefer cards used something even more mechanically secure, like some variant of SMA. I saw this option advertised for the Ubiquiti cards at Linux Devices, but Matt has never seen it actually sold that way.
-The card is supported by the excellent MadWifi driver under Linux. This driver lets one do some pretty spiffy things with this card, such as creating multiple virtual access points and adjusting channel size (allowing one to have more non-interfering channels or alternatively use up more of the band for more throughput potential).

I look forward to playing with the eBox 2300/Microclient JR and the Ubiquiti XR2 card next week at hacknight. I hope they play well with each other. My main concern is whether the eBox will supply the card with adequate power for its 600mw transmitter.

Posted in Portable Computing/Gadgets, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff, Wireless | 7 Comments »

OLSR now available for DD-WRT!

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd May 2007

Brainslayer, the one man band behind DD-WRT, an alternative firmware project for wireless router, recently announced some pretty cool news. As of today, he is integrating OLSR into DD-WRT and making it available for all devices capable of running it. OLSR is a mesh routing protocol that allows one to easily deploy large wireless networks with a minimum of fuss. A (greatly) simplified explanation is that you can throw out a bunch of wireless access points and they find each other and figure out how to route traffic on their own so that everyone can talk to each other and the internet, regardless of whether a particular node has its own individual DSL connection. OLSR has been used successfully to build some very large networks, perhaps most notably the Freifunk community wireless network in Leipzig, Germany. This network currently has over 500 nodes connected to the internet and each other using a standardized platform of inexpensive Linksys WiFi routers (available for $50-60) running OLSR using their own custom firmware, based on OpenWRT. The node map for their network is REALLY impressive and I so want to have it as a poster!

Freifunk Node Map

I greatly prefer DD-WRT to OpenWRT, so it is nice to see that OLSR is being integrated into DD-WRT as a standard option and made easy to configure with its own configuration page in the web page based admin tool. DD-WRT is available for a wide number of inexpensive and even FREE devices and I can’t help but think that this is going to make it much easier for neighborhood and community wireless network to succeed.

Posted in SWN Hacknight, Wireless | No Comments »

DD-WRT on Linksys WAP54G version 3

Posted by Deliverator on 18th April 2007

I’ve had a WAP54G sitting around doing nothing for quite some time. I checked to see if Linksys had anything to offer in more recent firmwares, but discovered that the version 3.04 firmware on the device was already the most recent available. Not pleased with the limited functionality in the official firmware, I checked to see if any of the third party firmware projects supported the WAP54G. I found some scant references to it being supported by DD-WRT on the Wiki, but managed to find better documentation elsewhere. In short order, I had DD-WRT v23 SP2 running on the WAP54G. Only the “Micro” build is capable of fitting in the WAP54G’s rather limiting 2MB of flash memory, but even the Micro build offers vastly expanded functionality over the official firmware. I quickly set up the wireless interface as a client to my home’s wireless network with direct bridging to the device’s Ethernet port. Thanks to DD-WRT enhanced functionality, I was able to use the WAP54G to replace the still more versatile Wireless Taco in servicing my Slingbox. I am watching TV over the link it provides while I write this entry.

Posted in Wireless | No Comments »

Slingbox AV

Posted by Deliverator on 14th April 2007

So, I bought a Slingbox AV at Compusa the other day. The Slingbox is a funky little device that fills a niche that nobody even new existed until a few years ago. It lets one watch YOUR TV (or other video outputting device) where-ever you happen to be. It streams the video to you over whatever network connection (including Internet) you happen to have handy, and is smart enough to adjust the bitrate on the fly to suit your connection. There is viewing software available for Windows, Windows Mobile, Palm OS and Mac (the latter two being long promised/advertised and only recently being delivered). The Slingbox also includes a built in IR blaster to allow you to remotely control the connected audio video equipment. There are tons of supported AV devices which currently work with the Slingbox and include nicely designed on screen controls. In principle, the IR blaster should be able to control just about any audio/video equipment, but there is no facility that I can see to “train” it to use your remote’s control code should your device not be currently supported.

Set up of my device was as painless as could be. I plopped it on top of my TV, positioned the IR blasters in front of my Tivo, hooked up S-Video and RCA audio cables (included), plugged in the Wifi Taco in bridged mode and plugged in the power cable. I then downloaded and installed the latest client software. The software found my device, updated the firmware, helped me adjust some settings for best viewing and a few short minutes later I was viewing and controlling my Tivo from my laptop. Video quality at 640*480 at 1700 kbps average bitrate was quite good. I watched Ronin, a movie with a lot of car chases (some consider it to have the best car chases ever seen in film), gun fights and lots of fast action and I was quite pleased with the video quality and lack of tearing.

I also set up my router to allow for remote viewing/control of the Tivo from the internet. The quality was quite watchable at 320*240 given my limited upstream bandwidth (3/4 mbit).

If you are a TV junky or frequent traveller, a Slingbox is a great way to get access to your media while out of the house, and a simple way to sling your media to whatever device is most convenient while within your home.

Posted in Media, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, The Boob Tube, Tivo & PVR, Wireless | No Comments »