Headed to Seattle a bit early today. I was originally going to bring along Larry Barello to talk with Matt and Rob about various OEM wifi modules suitable for use in some very hush-hush embedded systems, but he was feeling rather tired after spending the last few weeks in his cold garage working on this year’s FIRST robot. I will have to drag Larry along next week. I arrived almost an hour early, so I spent some time talking to my brother Scott while waiting for others to arrive, which they soon did – and in large numbers. Tonight’s hacknight ended up being the most populous I can remember in recent history.
Rob showed up with copies of his new book, Wireless Networking in the Developing World, hot off the presses from Lulu. Lulu is one of the first companies to do “Just In Time” publishing. Got something you want printed? Send em a PDF and $10 and a week or so later a nicely bound dead tree edition magically shows up at your doorstep. That is the theory, anyways. Unfortunately, Lulu wasn’t too happy with one of the chain of free tools Rob used to create his PDF, in particular the embedded fonts. Rob ended up with a beautifully formatted book filled with gibberish text that bore a distinct resemblance to Kanji. Rob spent a good chunk of the evening using Lulu’s “live chat” technical support to get the problem fixed before anyone did something rash – like order 150 of the things :)
Rob also showed off his $100 Wi-Spy 2.4ghz frequency analyzer. It is now supported by Kismet in text mode, and graphical support for OS X is otw. Rob tried to get an early version of the graphical version going, but it kept exiting after running for a second or so. We ended up borrowing Casey’s laptop and played around with the official Windows software. It was pretty cool to “see” bluetooth and get a sense for just how much noise is floating around the 2.4 ghz band. At $100 it is a fun toy, although it would be much more useful with an external antenna port.
Matt has announced that the new node on the UPN (now UPN/WB?) tower will be put up this Friday at 8am. I am very enthused about this new node, as it is the first with real potential to link the Eastside into the network. I may even consider climbing the huge tree in the front yard to get line-of-site. Nothing is going to drag me out of bed at 8 am, though…
Casey showed up and showed off his paper wireless sliderule and spent most of the night hunched over his laptop working on a Excel spreadsheet inputting specs on various pieces of wireless gear. He seemed a little withdrawn. I hope he is doing alright.
Matt Wilson showed up in his brightly colored motorcycle garb and brought along some interesting retro hardware which consumed most of his attention for the evening. The chief focus of his attentions was an Apple eMate 300, a large clamshell computer designed for use at the gradeschool level.In concept it is somewhat similar to the Branium Wibook that I brought to Hacknight some weeks back. Matt Wilson brought the eMate in because it late model version of the OS powering the Apple Newton PDA. Matt Wilson is a big fan of his Zaurus PDA, for which a newton emulator is available. Matt spent most of the evening searching poorly organized Newton related archives in search of a debugger. He eventually found a suitable debugger, although it needed to be run from OS 9. Not to be outdone, Matt wipped out an old powerbook (upgrade to a g3 running at ~200mhz on a 33mhz bus). By the end of the evening he had managed to download the rom image to the old OS 9 running Powerbook, transfer it over to his much nicer OS X Powerbook and get it running in an emulator. Although he carried a very sizeable kit of tools on his motorcycle to pry the OS image off the eMate, he forgot his very pocketable Zaurus at home, so that part of the project will have to wait till later. I have collected quite a few obsolete…, make that “retro” pieces of hardware over the years, so I definitely can sympathise.
Spent some time conversing with Schuyler Erle, one of the co-authors of O’reilly’s Mapping Hacks and co-coder of the Nocat captive portal system. Schuyler is visiting Seattle for a week from Boston, courtesy of MSN. MSN has been trying to bolster its map related offerings, after taking a beating from Google Map/Google Local/Google Earth, etc. I should have taken the opportunity to pick his brain about cartography, a subject on which he is quite an expert, but had some interesting conversations with him about a variety of other topics instead. I enjoyed talking with him about an abortive project of his, a p2p filesharing system designed with the network limitations of wireless networks in mind. One of the chief goals of his project was to avoid the huge drop in bandwidth associated with many clients attempting to transfer large files simultaneously, resulting in frequency contention/packet collisions. His system was somewhat similar to Token Ring, implemented at the application layer. I introduced him to Eric Butler, who has been working on a WASTE like private p2p network called Meshwork. The rest of the evening was spent discussing MONO development and the virtues of various programming languages. Oh, btw, in case you haven’t heard, Microsoft Sucks :)