The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Wireless' Category

Wireless Taco!

Posted by Deliverator on 7th April 2007

I recently purchased a wireless taco from Matt W, or rather from his company, Metrix Communications. The device is technically called the Ruckus Metroflex 2211-DZ, but once you see it, it is instantly transmogrified into simply “wireless taco.”

Ok, now that you have seen the taco, we can talk about what it does. At its simplest, the taco enables devices equipped with only Ethernet to communicate with 802.11b/g networks. This is generally known as a “client bridge” and there have been many client bridge products over the year, of which I own several. Few do the job as well or as elegantly as the taco. Most bridges have been rather convoluted to configure, often requiring one to run a windows only setup program to change settings, or to assign oneself a static ip address and then access a configuration web page. On the taco, one simply presses a button on the back and then you open a web browser on a computer hooked up to the taco’s Ethernet port. Regardless of what you have set as your homepage, the taco takes you to its configuration page to configure the bridge. Nothing could be simpler, quicker and more cross operating system compatible than the way the taco does it!

From the configuration webpage, you can scan for networks in range, set security options, change the default password and other typical bridge stuff. The taco does a number of things that other bridges do not. It can act as both a client on a wireless network and an access point (with or without dhcp and nat) at the same time. This lets one connect to a wireless network outside one’s building and extend it inside as well, all without relying on finicky wireless repeating systems like WDS.

Another neat feature of the taco is its advanced antenna array. You pretty much plop the taco down, plug it in and it figures out which set of antenna elements to use for best reception at any given moment. I haven’t taken mine apart yet (although I probably will in the next week), but there is a neat picture of the array (linked from Ruckus’ page) here:

Ruckus Dual Zone Antenna Array

All in all, the taco is everything a bridge should be and more. It is easy to configure, has great range, throughput is excellent and it has proved itself stable through large data transfers over the course of the last several days. The “Dual Zone” feature is unique on any product in its price range. You can get one yourself for $125 from Metrix.

Posted in Tech Stuff, Wireless | No Comments »

Time to upgrade to WPA or WPA2 folks!

Posted by Deliverator on 3rd April 2007

Wired Equivalent Privacy, aka WEP, the traffic encryption method still widely used on many 802.11b/g wireless networks, has been quite broken for at least several years. Easily downloaded tools such as Aircrack have enabled practical, real world breaking of WEP keys in 5-10 minutes. A security paper and associated code describing a much more efficient attack was recently released, which brings the total time necessary to find the WEP password for a wireless network down to as little as 1 minute with a 50% chance of success and about 2 minutes with a 85% chance. This attack doesn’t require special hardware/software to perform. Pretty much any laptop running *nix with two wireless adapters is capable of performing this attack. It used to be that you had to be worried if you saw a geeky guy sitting in a van in front of your house/business for hours on end. With small Linux devices like the Nokia 800, it is possible to run this sort of attack from one’s pockets simply by walking slowly past a target. Of course, it has also been possible to run this sort of attack at extreme distances using high gain antennas. WEP has been broken for a long time…now it is just more so.

Posted in Tech Stuff, Wireless | No Comments »

More Fun with Fon

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd March 2007

I had some more fun with my La Fonera this week. As in my last post, from hence forth the La Fonera shall be simply known as the lwb. The week started off with my lwb in a bricked condition thanks to an attempt to flash a new daily build of dd-wrt onto the device using the web interface over a wireless connection. Thankfully, I was able to still access Redboot after bricking my lwb and was able to flash to the version of dd-wrt from 0319. I heartily recommend that once you get your lwb up and running with dd-wrt, that you use ssh to flash to future version and not the web interface.

You can flash to the latest version via ssh by doing the following:

cd /tmp
wget <newest version of root.fs>
wget <newest version of vmlinux.bin.l7>
mtd write vmlinux.bin.l7 vmlinux.bin.l7
mtd write root.fs rootfs
reboot

Anyways, once I had my lwb unbricked, I was eager to try a rather neat feature present in 0319, the ability for the lwb to act as both a client to a wireless network as well as act as a wireless router….at the same time. Pretty neat trick for a device that only has one radio, eh? The lwb is capable of doing this juggling act thanks to its Atheros radio. I recommend upgrading to 0319, as this feature has been broken in many of the recent daily builds. Supposedly, the build from 0310 will work as well.

So, why would one want to do this? For one, it allows one to create a “repeater” for an arbitrary wireless network which may not quite reach to where you want its signal. It does it in a way which is compatible with security systems like WPA, unlike WDS repeating, which requires special set up and has a number of undesirable technical limitations. With the lwb, it is possible to create multiple virtual ap’s and create different rule sets for each.

I tested this single radio repeating at Hacknight this week, connecting as a client to the the internet cafe’s wireless network with the lwb acting as a wireless access point with routing as well. In this mode, the wired port on the lwb which is ordinarily used for wan connectivity acts as routed port, enabling wired devices to join in the fun. One can also put the lwb into a bridging-client mode, where the lwb acts as a wireless client and transparently passes traffic to the wired interface, but I haven’t tested this yet. This can be useful for connecting NAS appliances, network printers and other conventionally wired devices to your network, without any real limitation as to where you can place them. Don’t have enough room in your office? Put the printer in the linen closet! Wireless bridges really let one unclutter one’s environment.

I did one little last bit of hacking on my lwb this week. Erik Butler commented on a video he’d seen on YouTube in which the plastic casing of the lwb had melted due to the heat. The lwb is a *little* white box and doesn’t have almost any ventilation. A number of users on Fon’s own forums have commented that their units seem to be overheating and spontaneously rebooting as a result. At least two people have explored this issue in a pseudo-scientific like manner. The general conclusion seems to be that the ventilation in the lwb is woefully inadequate and that the high temperatures are likely to result in a drastically decreased operating lifetime, with the likely cause of death being capacitor failure. I have definitely noticed that my lwb runs quite hot, so decided to protect my investment of 0$ by adding a fan to the unit. I managed to scrounge a fan from an old motherboard chipset cooler which was of an appropriate size and voltage rating and with the help of my soldering iron and dremel tool, was able to add it to the lwb. My lwb now runs MUCH cooler, with no appreciable heat build up.

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

I LOATHE Bluetooth Dongles!

Posted by Deliverator on 13th March 2007

My relationship with Bluetooth technologies over the years has been a rather stormy one. Despite having been in development for many years now and having gone through several fairly major revisions, Bluetooth as a standard still suffers from performance, security and compatibility concerns. One of my biggest pet peaves though is the “dreaded dongle.”

Although I haven’t written about it here, it is probably no secret to anyone who knows me that I recently purchased a Lenovo Thinkpad. To be precise, I purchased a model Z61m sub-model 9450a36. For whatever reason, perhaps Windows Vista support, Lenovo chose to not ship this z61m with integrated bluetooth, which is odd to me, given that every other z61m seems to list it as standard hardware. Most of my geek friends gave me the advice of “just use a dongle,” which I absolutely refuse to do for a variety of reasons.

Chief among these reasons is that dongles jut out from the side of the notebook, which makes it an easy target for an accident waiting to happen. A $10 bluetooth dongle impacting or entangling with something can kill not just the dongle, but also the laptop which costs 100 or more times as much, or can damage the USB port. I do enough laptop repair in my line of work to know that this is one of the more common physical maladies to befall laptops. Another issue with dongles is that they are small and easily lost, or require you to dig through your bag to find them every time you want to use it. About the only dongle I would consider using is the diminutive Mogo Dapter, which barely extends past the USB port and has a rounded profile to minimize the chance of entanglement. This is basically a dongle that is designed to be left in all the time. Unfortunately, like so many wonderful James Bond inspired gadgets, this one is vapor, at least until the stated release date in June. Like with so many gadgets, I will believe it when I can buy it.

I spent some time researching internal options. It looks like I should be able to buy the internal module used by the other z61m models, but I am unsure of its compatibility and the install procedure is rather involved. For whatever reason, Lenovo places the bluetooth/modem daughtercard inside the screen assembly (perhaps to provide better rf propogation). Lenovo thankfully publishes a rather exhaustive service guide, so I am confident I could do the 11 major step procedure, but I wish there were a simpler solution. The z61m features two internal mini-pci express slots (yet, express, not just mini-pci). Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of hardware available for these slots just yet, and even if there were, Lenovo seems to have followed in IBM’s footsteps when they purchased IBM’s PC business, in that they lock down what devices you can install in internal slots to ones on an approved whitelist of device-ids. The solutions to the whitelist problem (short of saying screw you Lenovo and buying another brand of notebook) are not too appetizing. One can set a certain bit in the CMOS using a program called no-1802.com (named after the error message that inserting a non-whitelisted card produces), hex edit the bios and reflash, while keeping ones fingers crossed, or burn a new eprom for the device that you wish to insert, with a spoofed device-id (one which is on the nanny list). These prospects were a little too unappetizing, so I continued to look for solutions.

My nifty new z61m includes a nifty new ExpressCard 54 slot. ExpressCard is the new standard which is designed to replace Cardbus/PCMCIA as the solution for end user hardware expansion on notebooks. There are video cards, advanced docking port replicators, USB cards, Firewire cards, Sata cards, network adapters, WiFi adapters, sound cards, tv tuners, flash card readers and a host of other oddball devices available for expresscard already, but not a single Bluetooth adapter. Not only that, but the ExpressCard consortium could not provide me with any evidence that one is evening being developed. An ExpressCard Bluetooth adapter seems like a no brainer for me, given that ExpressCard actually offers a direct connection to the USB 2.0 bus. One should be able to scrape the circuitry from a Bluetooth dongle and slap it into an ExpressCard and call it good. Come on you creative Taiwanese manufacturers of Gizmos!

I may have found a solution to Dongle Hell in the form of a PCMCIA Bluetooth 2.0 adapter from Zoom, who a long time ago used to be Hayes, one of the better modem manufacturers back in the day. The antenna barely extends beyond the card slot, so this one shouldn’t present much if any clipping or entanglement hazard. The only PCMCIA compatible card with a lower profile, of which I am aware, is from Socket, which is actually a type II CF card which does not extend beyond the boundary of a type II CF memory card. It was designed for insertion in internal PDA slots which do not allow for extruding things like antennas. I have used one of the socket cards for a few years on my Jornada 720 and Netbook Pro. Unfortunately, Socket actually charges you extra if you want drivers for Windows. Their driver support only extends to Win XP and is by all reports rather buggy. the Zoom PCMCIA adapter, otoh is the first PCMCIA adapter, of which I am aware, to have published Vista drivers. I am unsure of whose bluetooth stack they are using, but they do list support for a wide variety of advanced Bluetooth profiles. While a lot of USB Bluetooth dongles are plug and pray supported under Vista, almost all of them are just supported by the rather minimal Microsoft stack, which is yet another strike against dongles. Anyways, I ordered one up on eBay and it should arrive in another day or two. I’ll give you a heads up if this product is a workable solution for Dongle Hell.

UPDATE The Zoom PCMCIA adapter arrived and works well in Vista. I downloaded the most recent drivers from their website, installed them, popped the card in and five minutes later was using my cell phone’s edge connection. The bluetooth stack is from Toshiba and thus far I much prefer it to the Widcomm or Bluesoleil stacks which I have used in the past. My only complaint against it is that the antenna nub which extends slightly beyond the card slot is made of purple semi-transparent plastic, which imo clashes a little with my Thinkpad’s blacker-than-though aesthetic.

Posted in Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Windows, Wireless | 7 Comments »

Terra Bite Lounge – Kirkland

Posted by Deliverator on 5th March 2007

So, I’ve been meaning to check out the Terra Bite Lounge in Kirkland for a while now. Today, thanks to a rare break in my schedule, I finally got the chance. Terra Bite is a cafe which has no set prices and payment is strictly voluntary. They have a drop box near the counter in which you can contribute anything you choose, and can also pay online via paypal. Payment is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Supposedly, Terra Bite started out as a bet as to whether, in the absence of compulsion, people are inherently good or evil and the cafe is the means of testing the proposition. I really like the fact that I can pay whatever I like, pay online, pay weekly, etc. The atmosphere is really nice and low key and the service is better, as the Barristas aren’t spending half their time making change and processing credit cards (although you can pay by card as well). I am really intrigued by this experiment, as it is really similar in philosophy to much that is at the heart of the DRM debate.

The cafe itself seems to have good food and drink, music and nice furniture. I am sitting here relaxing on a big plush leather couch while watching someone play “Gears of War” for the XBOX 360 on a big plasma screen. Needless to say, and as evidenced by this post, Terra Bite has free WiFi as well.

I highly recommend you check it out. It is at the corner of Kirkland and State street.

Posted in Mobile Blogging, Wireless | No Comments »

Fun with Fon cures Frustrations

Posted by Deliverator on 24th February 2007

After a day filled with frustrations, I decided what I needed was a good, challenging late night hack session. I’ve had a funky little “La Fonera” wifi router sitting on my shelf for a while, so I decided to see what I could do with it. The “La Fonera” is from a spanish company called Fon, which is trying to build a hotspot network by literally giving away access points. The idea is that if you host a Fon hotspot, you can get on any of the other hotspots in the network for free, but non-members have to pay. I am not sure how that business model is working for them. As Matt is fond of saying, “its not my job to support your *^*&^*& business model.” For a while they were giving away WRT54GL’s, but despite a rather large cash infusion from google, I guess this proved too expensive. So, they rolled their own solution in the form of “La Fonera.” I am getting sick of saying La Fonera, so I will just call it the little white box. The little white box is quite little, and white. The little part makes it an interesting target for hacking, while the white part just makes me want to kill whoever started this particular design craze at Apple. So, lets see what we can do with this little white box, eh?

fonera

Sebastian Gottschall, chief developer of the excellent dd-wrt wireless firmware project, recently started releasing builds of dd-wrt for the little white box. OpenWRT is also a possibility. In fact, the little white box ships with a highly modified and locked down version of OpenWRT. Unlike most devices supported by dd-wrt, getting the firmware on the little white box isn’t as simple as just hitting the upload firmware button in the webmin interface (like you can on a WRT54GL). To start with, the little white box checks for a cryptographic signature on any firmware you try to upload using their web interface, so we have to find another method. The little white box uses an unmodified version of the Redboot bootstap environment, so if you can somehow get access to Redboot, you can use it to upload a new flash image from a TFTP server. There is a serial console with pin headers on the little white box. Unfortunately, it is a TTL type serial port, so you would need to build an adapter to use it. Eric Butler was kind enough to offer me the parts I would need (particularly a MAX232 TTL converter chip), but I was in no mood to wait, so I needed to find another way to get access to Redboot.

For this, it sure would help to have root SSH or telnet access to the little white box. I found a page which described a neat form submission data injection attack, similar to what was first used to open up the WRT54G. Unfortunately, my little white box came with a firmware which validates form submissions for things like escape characters. At this point, I am getting sick of the little white box, so I will now just call it lwb. Fortunately, I was able to downgrade to a firmware revision that doesn’t! Once you are at the lower firmware revision, be careful to keep your lwb from going online, as the lwb auto-updates! Using the above linked method, I was able to get myself root SSH access.

Fonera SSH

I quickly used vi to make the change permanent and keep the box from updating itself behind my back. Once into the lwb, I was able to swap in a different kernel, which can be found with some difficulty at this site. After rebooting with this new kernel and a few steps I don’t understand, you get access to Redboot via telnet on port 9000 on the lwb’s wired port.

Once into Redboot, you need to set up a tftp server and use it to serve up the latest dd-wrt firmware files to the lwb by carefully typing the instructions. If you screw up at this stage or any other stage, you are likely to your little white box into a little white brick. Thankfully, all went well and I now have a Fonera which is free as in source as well as free as in beer.

dd-wrt fonera

Once I’ve had some fun with my Freed Fonera, I will probably flash it back to the original firmware, as Fon’s business model just might catch on if google’s deep pockets allow them to give away a few million more of these things.

Many thanks to all those who did a great job documenting the technical details of getting dd-wrt running on the lwb.

Posted in Linux, Operating Systems, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Wireless | No Comments »

Seattle Wireless Hacknight – 11/22/06

Posted by Deliverator on 24th November 2006

Most of the guys at Hacknight spent the evening working on a bunch of Arlan 900mhz radios purchased from Ebay. These are wireless devices that predate the 802.11 standard and date from about 1994. The devices all came in access point mode, but some clever use of the Internet Archive revealed a method to convert them to bridges by applying a particular sequence of firmware upgrades and downgrades. A few of the devices were bricked in figuring out the proper process, but it seems like most of the kinks have been worked out now. The Arlan devices only cost about $20 each (compared to modern 900 mhz devices which cost 400+), so nobody is too discouraged about a few bricked ones. The intention is to use these to test the feasibility of linking nodes which for whatever reason can’t be linked with 2.4 ghz radios, such as near line of sight scenarios where dense foliage or a building might separate two isolated nodes. If a link can be established using these old, slow (.5mbit) 900mhz devices, then it should be possible to simply swap in newer (read – expensive), high speed 900mhz gear. At $20, it is a cheap way to test the viability of a link and hey .5mbit is useful in its own right.

A nice guy named Joseph stopped by our table and asked us about what we were doing. Turns out he does a lot of low level system designer/engineer and has a lot of experience with the Motorola 68k family of processors which the Arlan devices use. He is going to try and stop by next week to disassemble some code and provide some more details on the boot process. Hopefully, he might be able to find a way to debrick a few devices, or find an easier way to convert them over to bridging mode. He used to work for Psion and we talked for a while about my Psion Netbook Pro, Nokia 770 and the upcoming 870 (presumed name). He was very disappointed over what has happened to the company over the years, in particular the switch from the EPOC OS (arguably the most stable, robust OS ever featured on a palmtop) to Windows CE.

Ken tested some high power, 400mw mini-pci 802.11g radios from Ubiquiti Networks using a Soekris board. This is a particularly neat radio as it is high power, has excellent receive sensitivity, uses an Atheros chipset supported by the MadWifi driver under Linux and has both MMCX (yay!) and u.FL connector. MMCX is considerably more robust connector, mechanically than u.FL. It also appears that this card is available with an optional SMA connector, which would be better yet. Ken has some doubts as to whether two of these very high power cards will run happily in a low-power Soekris boards, but I expect these cards will find a lot of useful niches.


Matt Westervelt
and I both purchased new lenses for our respective Nikon DSLRs, but have yet to receive them. I purchased a Sigma 30mm F/1.4 and Matt purchased an MC Zenitar 16mm F/2.8 fish-eye lens on eBay from Kiev Camera. This Zenitar fish-eye is one of the cheapest wide-angle lenses currently available at around $150. The lens is made by KMZ which has been making all sorts of optical products since WWII. This lens is strictly manual and the build quality is probably about what you would expect, but for $150 it is probably the cheapest way to experiment with a fish-eye lens. People seem to have a lot of fun with this lens and Flickr has some interesting examples of what can be done with it. I might pick one up once my budget has recovered somewhat from all my recent camera related purchases.

More pics from Hacknight available in the gallery.

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Wireless | No Comments »

Seattle Wireless Field Day 2006

Posted by Deliverator on 28th October 2006

EDIT Other participants have started writing up their Field Day experiences here, here, here and here. I especially liked Casey’s Field Day Video.END OF EDIT

Spent the day at Don Armeni Park at Alki Beach as part of Seattle Wireless Field Day 06.

SWN Field Day is an emergency preparedness exercise (and all around good time) conceived of by Casey Halverson. Field Day evolved from the observation that quite often natural disasters cause severe, long term interruptions/disruptions in city scale infrastructure, particularly communications infrastructure. This was very evident in the case of Hurricane Katrina. The basic idea of field day is to get a bunch of people and their gear together and establish wireless network (and internet) connectivity spanning physically disparate areas of the city. The idea of leveraging wireless technologies for disaster relief isn’t exactly new. Amateur radio operators have a decades old annual preparedness event of the same name. What is new is the ability to leverage commodity hardware, open source software to provide high speed data connectivity. Volunteers from several community wireless groups descended on Louisiana after Katrina and quickly established a routed, wireless network, providing Internet connectivity to many schools, public buildings and shelters. You can see some pictures of Katrina related wireless efforts here. Even second hand, it was amazing to see valuable services like VOIP and user created “family member location” databases emerge; not out of governmental forethought or rapid (ha) mobilization, but from intelligent people in need using the tools available to them.

Antennas Field Day 06

I arrived a little after noon to Alki and found Ken, Erik, Galan and Casey already set up with a tent, laptops, antennas, cabling, batteries, inverters and other assorted equipment. Erik used my car-puter’s EDGE internet connectivity to download some important bits, including the OLSR mesh routing protocol onto his laptop. Soon after, we returned to the tent and Ken and Erik were able to establish wireless links across Elliot Bay to downtown Seattle and Magnolia. The Gasworks site was a bit of a bust due to late arrivals from several key people, as well as a lack of adequate power provisioning. Most of the people at Gasworks moved over to a marina on Elliot Bay where connectivity to Alki was eventually established. Coordination of activities occured using FRS/GRMS radios and proved adequate (and only just adequate) to the task. Once all the sites were up an running, people chatted on IRC, spoke using various standalone and software based VOIP phones, streamed radio and watched the latest silly videos on YouTube. Aside from random hardware related hijinx, I would say that establishing and connecting the sites proved easier than in past years, in no small part due to OLSR handling many of the routing details. Ken took a number of screenshots of network maps during the day and they were quite impressive to behold.

OLSR Field Day 06

The only low points for me were:

-It was a beautiful day, but too damn cold (I am still cold after several hours bundled up in my bedroom with the space heater turned on high)
-Not enough chairs
-No on site food

All three of these complaints could be solved if only I had:

-Dressed in more layers, worn a hat and gloves
-brought my own damn chair
-brought a thermos and some snacks.

In short, the only negative aspects of field day for me were my own fault. Field Day is most certainly a participation oriented event and I will just have to be more “prepared” for it next year. I do hope we are able to get better organized ahead of time and hold it when the weather is both warm and clear. August would be nice, because as you know, disasters only happen in August in Seattle :)

I am uploading pictures of today’s events now and they will be available at my SWN Field Day 06 Gallery shortly.

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Wireless | No Comments »

SWN Hacknight – 101106

Posted by Deliverator on 11th October 2006

Fought my way through traffic to get to Capitol Hill this evening for SWN Hacknight and was glad I made the trip.

-Rob brought the first print copies of his new book How To Accelerate Your Internet, which cover many aspects of bandwidth management. You should be able to buy a print copy shortly. The full book is available for download under a Creative Commons license.
-Got to play around with a Sony Reader. The Sony Reader is Sony’s second stab at creating an ebook reader which uses an electrophoretic (aka eink) display. The first was the Librie, which was only released in Japan. I found the device interesting, but not suitable for my uses. I think I am going to get the Irex Iliad instead.

What Sony got right –

  • High contrast display with amazing off axis visibility. As one person said “It looks fake”
  • Excellent hand-held ergonomics. Easy to flip pages/navigate menus using one hand in either portrait or landscape orientation
  • Easily navigable interface
  • Integrated leather(ish) screen cover, which snaps to the back. Unit feels very “solid”

What they got wrong –

  • This is really designed as a “closed” device, so what Sony wants is what you get. GPL covered code has been released, but many aspects of the device and accompanying software are still very buttoned up.
  • Limited internal storage without relying on a SD card or *surprise* Sony Memory Stick
  • Limited format support and reliance on closed source PC only conversion software for most document formats. Unsure of quality of conversion. We were able to read a PDF file from a SD card, but there was no evidence of read-ahead rendering of pages. Page flips were quite slow as a result
  • Screen resolution is fairly low and is only 4 shades of grey. Trying to read text in PDFs was awefully squinty due to this in combination with the paperback sized screen. I think a device like this will have its greatest initial appeal to engineers, lawyers and other people who work in documentation heavy professions. I don’t think a lot of people will buy a $350 ebook reader to read the latest Danielle Steel bodice ripper.
  • Screen exhibited a distracting degree of ghosting left over from the previous page. Rob described it well as “like seeing the letters written on the opposite side of a sheet of paper.”
  • Sealed, proprietary, internal rechargeable battery. Devices with non user serviceable/replaceable batteries have become a major turn-off for me.
  • Screen orientation can be switched, but it is burried several menus deep in the interface. I constantly shift around while reading and being able to change screen orientation quickly is a big deal to me. My Rocket Ebook has a dedicated button to change orientation. Addendum – Looks like one of the buttons if held down for five seconds will flip the orientation. Still not as nice as a dedicated instant switch button.
  • No touchscreen, so no ability to sketch or annotate or documents.

-Matt brought a Chumby. It is cute, soft and designed to be hacked. Whats not to like? Strangely, my first and ongoing reaction is that I want to pick it up and throw it through a window.
-Rob, Casey and Erik hacked away at getting UAE to play nice with some Amiga ROMS in order to get a unique program called Algomusic to run. Algomusic generates Techno music algorithmicly. It is extremely configureable and it sounds like nothing has ever been created since that quite does the job as well. Rob wants use it as background music for an audio stream featuring text-to-speech renditions of random LiveJournal blog entries.
-Casey did a few announcements relating to the rapidly approaching SWN Field Day. There will be a practice link set up this Saturday across Elliot Bay to get out as many kinks as possible prior to the actual event.
-I got OLSR installed on my Nokia 770.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, SWN Hacknight, Wireless | No Comments »

DD-WRT on WRT54GL

Posted by Deliverator on 24th July 2006

When setting up Frankenputin at Ryan’s house, we discovered that his router, a Linksys WRT54G (version 1.0) did not support port forwarding, at least not in the way we wanted. Sure, we could forward a port on the router’s ip address to an internal ip, but we couldn’t choose the internal port to map to, just the ip address. This became a problem, because Ryan has a couple servers operating within his firewall and he wanted to be able to ssh to each of them (without altering the port ssh was running upon). Rather than getting a new router, I suggested we try one of the 3rd party firmwares designed for the WRT54G. We ended up loading up DD-WRT without too much trouble. Actually, we had trouble, but it was due to a bad upstream cable connection, but that took us a while to figure out, so we ended up undeservedly cursing DD-WRT for a while before figuring out the issue. I was impressed with the plethora of advanced options, layed out very cleanly in DD-WRT’s web interface panel. I was extra impressed given how much functionality the author had crammed into the minimal version of DD-WRT that we installed in just under 3 MB of flash memory.

My initial experience with DD-WRT was really rather positive (our own bonehead cabling issues aside), so a few weeks later I decided to install DD-WRT on a Linksys WRT54GL, which I purchased at Frys. Frys is the only Seattle store where I have found the GL model being sold. So, why did I have to go to Frys to pickup a WRT54GL…I thought this thing ran on those WRT54G’s which you can get at any computer store?….

The WRT54GL is essentially a WRT54G model 4, with a new model number on the front. The L presumeably stands for Linux, and a ominously worded message on a sticker on the box warns that the enclosed device may contain open source code. Danger! Danger! A while back, Linksys pulled a bait and switch and the current products sold as the WRT54G and GS are now entirely different beast inside their little blue boxes, with much less ram and flash than the WRT54G and GS have hisorically been equiped with. The new WRT54G’s also runs an embedded OS, which I believe is VXworks. These new devices are horribly crippled compared to their earlier, identically named older bretheren. In my opinion, Linksys did nothing less than build a good reputation among consumers with a particular product and then swap it out for a piece of crap with the same name and appearance. To draw an analogy, it would be like buying a Mustang and then popping the hood, only to find that the engine had been replaced by one from a Geo Metro. Linksys continues to sell the “real” WRT54G under the WRT54GL model name. Unfortunately, virtually nobody carries this model and if they do, they are selling it for much more than the original price point of the old WRT54G’s. Still, even at a streat cost of $80 (when you can actually find one), a WRT54GL when coupled with the advanced functionality of DD-WRT is a bargin at twice the price. So, what amazing whizbang features do you get with your DD-WRT equiped router?

Well, that last question was a bit of a trick, as DD-WRT comes in several varieties. There are multiple versions, each designed for enchanced functionality in a specific area, such as VOIP, Quality of Service and VPN use. In addition, there is a standard, mini and micro edition. The micro edition is small enough that it will even run on the new crippled WRT54G version 5, although the flashing procedure is rather involved, requiring knowledge of JTAG. The Standard version is probably what most home users will want to use. One can’t flash directly to any version above mini using the web interface, as Linksys now institutes a check to ensure that a flash image is no bigger than ~3MB. So, to get your router up and running, you reset your router, flash to the mini version using the Linksys web interface, reset the router again and then flash to the final intended firmware. In my case, I chose the VPN version. So, what do you get in the VPN version? Well, I am not going to list them all, but here are a few standouts:

  • Ability to act as a client to another AP. Great if you want wire up a bunch of computers in an inconvenient location (think lan parties!).
  • Dynamic DNS support for a number of popular services. Great if you are hosting a server on a dynamic ip.
  • A number of hotspot portal solutions. Great if you are running an internet cafe, or just want your neighbors to play nice with your connection. Also supports adjusting DHCP lease time, which is a sorely needed feature in any WAP used by a cafe, as long lease times often result in a WAP becoming non-functional due to the high number of users that cycle through during a day, exhausting the lease pool
  • OpenVPN Client and Server, as well as PPTP Client and Server. Great if you want secure remote access into your lan, or want to connect your lan securely to your main business network. I am not sure how many simultaneous connections this will support, as it is doing everything in software. On the plus side, DD-WRT supports overclocking :)
  • Better Quality of Service features than many business class routers I have worked with, and this isn’t even the QoS version (which unfortunately is only available with a donation)
  • Support for static routing, BGP, OSPF and RIP2 routing
  • support for automatically mounting a remote fileshare using Samba
  • Remote logging abilities, keepalive, watchdog, etc.
  • SSH server and client
  • Static DHCP Assignment. It is surprising how many fairly high consumer/small business routers throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but leave this useful feature out
  • VLAN support
  • UPnP support for automatic configuration of router by applications with special needs.

I haven’t had a chance to play around with all of DD-WRT’s advanced features, but have been very happy with the implementation of the features I have used. I have been using the WRT54GL with DD-WRT v23sp1 VPN edition for several days now with no complaints.

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