The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for October, 2006

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 »

Fenix P1 LED Flashlight

Posted by Deliverator on 25th October 2006

Purchased yet another LED flashlight, a Fenix P1 from user Eliteled on eBay. The flashlight cost me $45+$5 S&H, which seems about par for the course. Shipping was quite prompt, arriving via USPS in 2 business days from California. Eliteled answered a post-purchase question I had about acceptable battery types quickly. So far, they have a 100% track record on eBay. If you are in the market for this or any other LED flashlight that they carry, I highly recommend them. Anyways, back to the flashlight itself.

The Fenix P1 is one of the smallest LED flashlights on the market that use a 3 watt Luxeon emitter. There are some that are smaller, but most seem to have little or poor voltage regulation. One of the big attractions of the P1 is its excellent voltage regulation. With the P1, the flashlight will stay uniformly bright throughout the battery’s discharge cycle. Many flashlights without regulation drop to a fraction of their initial brightness after only a few minutes of use. The P1’s superior regulator is able to maintain a substantial percent of its initial brightness until the battery is almost totally drained.

One of the things I like about this flashlight is its ability to use 3.7 volt rechargeable CR123 LION batteries. Non-rechargeable Lithium CR123’s are rather expensive, so the ability to use a rechargeable battery is most welcome. Make sure to use cells which come off the charger no “hotter” than 3.7 volts. There are more or less two types of LION rechargeable CR123 cells. One of these types comes off the charger with a exceedingly high 4.2 volts, which will fry many devices that are designed to only operate on a narrow range of voltages. The P1 has a top voltage that is explicitly stated as 4.0 volts, so using the higher voltage rechargeables will almost certainly Fry it. Even the 3.7 volt cells probably result in some overdriving of the emitter. LEDs can potentially last a long time (100,000 hours is commonly quoted), but if you let them get overly hot, you run the risk of burning out the emitter or severely curtailing its useful life. This flashlight definitely gets hot, so I would recommend you don’t use it continuously for very long unless you are hand holding it (such that your body’s circulation acts as a heatsink for the flashlight) .

The flashlight is nicely machined out of aluminum and is deeply annodized, so scratches won’t mar the finish. The flashlight has a few rings on the tail end for attaching lanyards and it comes with a “lobster claw” clip for attaching to your keychain, as well as a belt holster.

All in all, I consider the Fenix P1 one of the best “keychainable” LED flashlights on the market today.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff | 1 Comment »

Night Photography with Ryan

Posted by Deliverator on 21st October 2006

Ryan and I decided to hang out this evening and do a little night photography. I arrived quite early, so had a Cup of Joe at Trabant, had a couple of hot dogs at Matt’s and checked out Jim’s Camera Shop. Jim’s is an oddball, infrequently open, little hole in the wall which has generated several mentions from Matt Westervelt at recent SWN Hacknights as a great place to get used lenses. I am mainly looking for a fast wide angle for my new D80, but they didn’t have much in that category. I was somewhat intrigued by a 500mm fixed f/8 mirror-lens, which uses a mix of mirrors and lenses to achieve its considerable throw in a very compact, if somewhat pudgy six inch long frame. The lens seemed to be in great functional shape, though it is cosmetically a little worse for wear, having been manufactured in the mid-70’s. I like some of the effects that can be produced as a result of using this sort of lens. From what I can gather from a brief search of ebay and other venues, I should be able to pick up the same lens in much better cosmetic shape for about the same price as Jim’s is asking for it. I am going to be in the U district tomorrow to see The Prestige, so I might try and dicker Jim’s price down, if they are open. After meeting up with Ryan, we went cavorting around Seattle, setting up our tripods and taking pictures of whatever caught our fancy. You can see some of my pictures from this evening by clicking on the image below.

Night Photography

Posted in General, Photography | 1 Comment »

Nikon D80

Posted by Deliverator on 19th October 2006

I decided to finally take the plunge and bought myself a digital SLR camera, a Nikon D80. After 30+ years of use, I felt my grandfather’s Konica T3 was getting a little long in the tooth. I am very happy with the camera itself. I have done 2 night shoots and played around with it a bit at Hacknight this week. Galan was present. He works for a camera store and owns a Nikon D1x. He felt I should return my D80 and get a D200 instead. I am unconvinced that I would make good use of the extra, more pro oriented features of the D200. The metal body would be nice, but my D80 feels quite solid, and I don’t expect to get 30 years of use out of it, anyways. I will probably buy a few accessories (vertical grip/battery box would be nice) and lenses from him in a while. I bought the D80 as a kit with a 18-135mm lens. I am very happy with the D80, but not so much with the lens. The lens is pretty slow, feels a bit cheaply constructed and doesn’t have a very crisp focus when manually focusing using the ring. I really would like to get myself a nice fast wide angle lens for landscapes and shooting in subdued lighting (such as Cafe Vivace) and a 18-200mm VR lens for general shooting. I got really hooked on vibration reduction/image stabalization from using my Canon S1IS. It is really nice to be able to hand hold shots that would ordinarily require a tripod. Unfortunately the 18-200mm VR lens is in incredibly high demand and it is next to impossible to actually purchase. I am keeping my eyes peeled and am on several wait lists already. In the meantime, I have been plowing through the manual and have been wasting a lot of “film” :)

Posted in General, Photography | No Comments »

The Prestige

Posted by Deliverator on 15th October 2006

I recently read The Prestige, a book by author Christopher Priest, in anticipation of the impending release of a film adaptation from director Christopher Nolan. Chris Nolan did Momento and Insomnia and is most recently credited with the revitalization of the Batman franchise with Batman Begins. The movie features a star studded cast including Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla! From the trailer, it looks to be a kick.

I look forward to seeing what he can do with it. I will be seeing The Prestige this coming edit SUNDAY at Lincoln Square if anyone would like to accompany me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Books, General, Media, Movies | 1 Comment »

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 »

SingleClick VNC

Posted by Deliverator on 7th October 2006

After a brief testing period, I recently started using SingleClick VNC with a limited subset of my clients. SingleClick is a special version of the popular UltraVNC remote access software. The main defining feature of SingleClick is that you can send it to an unskilled computer user, have them doubleclick on it (despite the program’s name, most Windows users still use doubleclick to launch, not the strange singleclick mode that was briefly introduced with Win ME) and the “server” will connect outward through any NAT/Firewall to a listening client. This is a rather odd reversal of the conventional client/server relationship, but it works well. The NAT traversal feature is really useful, as many users have integrated combo DSL/routers whose settings (like port forwarding) cannot be modified (even if they had the skill to do so). Another nice aspect of SingleClick VNC is that the whole package is built as a solitary exe file, which does not install any services, access the registry or write to any permanent files. When you exit the program, all that remains is the exe file. The way this works is that you create a config file (with such settings such as the ip address the program should attempt to connect to when the user double clicks on it), some icons, a background and logo bitmap and then zip up the files and upload them to a service on SingleClick’s website. The service takes these files and builds them into a custom exe. It took me just a few minutes to create a customized version with my own artwork and instructions to the user.

If you are in the PC support biz or just want to be able to better help Grandma, I highly recommend giving SingleClick a try. If you have a problem you think I might be able to help with and are willing to pay, feel free to download my customized copy of SingleClick by clicking on the image below.

Base 10 Computers - Remote Support Client

Posted in General, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

First Taste of FiOS….Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

Posted by Deliverator on 7th October 2006

Yesterday, I got my first chance to play around with FiOS, the new fiber-to-the-premises service from Verizon. Verizon is currently the only major provider offering such a service in the US. This is really the first major attempt in the US to make a break with the aging infrastructure of telephone lines and coaxial cable. Verizon is currently pushing internet access and phone service over the new fiber infrastructure, as well as TV service in the few markets where they have been able to negotiate franchise agreements. It will probably be an uphill battle trying to win over contracts from municiple governments with entrenched cable monopolies.

Phone service may be an iffy proposition as well, as fiber cannot carry power like copper wiring can, meaning your phone service will go down in the event of a power failure. Normal copper based phone service with its independent power system often stays up even when the main power grid fails. Verizon does include a small UPS with the installation, but it is only rated for 4-8 hours of service and people will probably forget to replace the batteries every 2-3 years anyways. This could be a real turn off to some people who take disaster preparedness seriously (as I hope we all do after Katrina).

Where FiOS really shines is as a platform for broadband internet. Verizon offers a number of speeds, with the slowest speed of 5 mbit down 2 mbit up coming in at around $35. Even this low end offering is less expensive and faster than any comparable DSL offering as well as being competitive with the best speeds that Comcast currently offers. For a mere $10 more a month, you can get your speed boosted to 15 mbit down/2 mbit up, a speed that is unrivaled by any other broadband technology on the market today. Speed bumps beyond that are possible, but get significantly more expensive. The next tier of speed, 30 mbit down/5 mbit up will cost a residential user $180/month. There is also a 50 down/5 up plan, which is not widely advertised, for which I have no pricing data. Static IPs are not offered on residential accounts, but the dynamic ips that are assigned on residential accounts appear to have very long term leases. A dynamic DNS service should make some home hosting a possibility. It appears that port 80 and 25 incoming are blocked, so FiOS isn’t ideal for home server, but thats life. For pretty much double the cost, you can get your FiOS under a business contract with a block of 5 static IPs and no port blocking.

Verizon is making a huge investment in infrastructure with FiOS. It is going to cost them dearly in the near tune, with at least $20 BILLION dollars already planned. In the long term, I think it will give them a huge competitive advantage. I am unaware of any future DSL or cable standards that can touch the speeds which FiOS is capable of offering today. Multimode fiber also gives Verizon the ability to roll out faster speeds in the future by multiplexing more wavelengths of light down the fiber. This of course would require swapping gear out at both the head and client premises, a not insignificant expense, but really the labor involved in the initial rolling out of fiber to neighborhoods is going to be the big overall expense. I think FiOS looks to be a big winner in the broadband market as it stands now and has greater room for expansion in the future. As the lines between conventional push media (TV), communications and internet service continue to blur, the future increasingly becomes about bits/second. Fiber, more than any other technology has the potential to drastically change the way we think about (and use) broadband. Today’s broadband services will seem as outmoded and useless as analogue dial-up does to the present generation of users, who are more likely to get their media from YouTube than the BoobTube.

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

Did you pass math?

Posted by Deliverator on 6th October 2006

I have been using Akismet for a while to catch comment spam. In general, it works quite well, with an extremely low false positive rate and an equally low false negative rate. I have noticed a few more of late that have managed to sneak through as legitimate. This doesn’t perturb me too much, as I moderate all comments anyways before they are actually posted to the site. Also, once I have labeled the few that sneak through as spam, Akismet usually becomes very good at catching similar ones in the future. Still, I have become loath to spend my time to login and review Akismet’s. In an effort to ensure that reader comments get posted in a timely manner (and that they don’t continuously repost because their comment didn’t go through right away), I decided to install another spam filter plugin in addition to Akismet and to start approving comments through email. I initially played around with a spam plugin called Hashcash, which has an excellent reputation for being an utter brick wall against comment spam. However, I didn’t like its reliance on javascript, as it would require readers of my page who wish to comment to be using a modern, desktop web browser. A small but significant percentage of readers of this site are browsing on HPC devices with antiquated web browsers with flaky javascript support. So, instead I decided to try a plugin called Did You Pass Math?. DYPM simply requires a commenter to answer a grade school level math question when attempting to submit a comment. If they don’t answer the question correctly, the comment is completely rejected. If they answer it correctly, it gets thrown through Akismet and thenceforth into my moderation que, triggering an email to YT to approve the thing. So far, I have not had a single comment suceed in even getting to the secondary Akismet review stage, which may say a lot about the readership of this site. The plugin does appear to be working with the few test comments that I have generated. Let me know if you notice anything wonky….if you can!

Posted in Blogging, General | 2 Comments »