Cellular and Netbooks and Networking and UNIX01 Aug 2010 03:04 pm

Well, I had pfSense working for a wired interface, but once I enabled the wireless interface and a client connected to it, the machine hardlocked. I am not one to be defeated by technology, so I dug out my IPCop install disc and attempted to load that on instead. Sadly IPCop 1.4 does not have support in the installer for the wired connection, so I gave the new beta a try. It works! I had to give the proper INIT string for the aircard and find a working version of WLAN-AP, but once all that was done, I was able to connect both wirelessly and wired.

I am all set to go for the not so distant future!

Cellular and Netbooks and Networking and UNIX30 Jul 2010 03:30 pm

In my last post I talked about building an alternative to Cradlepoint’s routers, and as I’ve decided to use my Dell Mini 10v for my “carry” netbook, I’m looking at what to turn my Eee PC 901 into.

The most obvious choice I’m seeing is loading pfSense on it and using it as a prototype for the embedded router project. It meets the criteria for it: USB ports, a single ethernet port, and a supported wireless card. Having a keyboard and screen is a good benefit for configuring the interfaces.

This will make the transition to the embedded setup easier once I get the pieces for that as the netbook has the same concept as the embedded board, just with more RAM and a faster CPU. One other major boon is a battery for a rudimentary UPS. The 6-cell battery included with the Eee PC 901 offers about 6 hours of run time.

This all hinges on my aircard being supported by the current pfSense 2.0 betas. If it’s not, well, I’ll need to do manual configuration with FreeBSD 8.1-RELEASE. Either way, it should be quite fun!

Cellular and Embedded and Networking and UNIX30 Jun 2010 03:25 pm

A random search of “T-Mobile Rocket Linux” on Google retrieved a post showing how to make the T-Mobile webConnnect Rocket Stick HSPA+ device work in Linux. This is relevant because as of June 17, the Atlanta metro area has HSPA+.

In my adventures with embedded computing, I’ve come across the PC Engines ALIX boards. These are slightly less expensive than Soekris’ and similarly capable. Their alix2d13 board has 3 LAN ports and 2 USB ports. pfSense 2.0 is currently in beta, and as it is based on FreeBSD 8-RELENG (future 8.1), it should have support for my UMG-181.

The article on making the Rocket Stick work in Linux showed its device ID: its device ID also exists in /src/sys/dev/usb/serial/u3g.c in FreeBSD 8-STABLE. As development on FreeBSD 8.1 continues, it may indeed be functional when 8.1-RELEASE is out.

Needless to say, I put a plan together. An alix2d13 equipped with a wireless card, loaded with pfSense 2.0 or similar, and paired with a USB aircard is the same concept of Cradlepoint’s WWAN routers. It also has the flexibility and extensibility of pfSense and the bonus of being open-source.

From the looks of things, the whole setup will run just under $200. I should be able to squeak this into my budget later on this year, maybe.

My tests of T-Mobile’s upgraded network with my UMG-181 have produced results as high as 4Mbps. My home DSL connection is 6Mbps for comparison. I do believe that I will have sufficiently fast access at this year’s hamfests and at conventions for sure. Now to implement this new project.

Computers and Netbooks and UNIX27 May 2010 03:27 pm

In the end, the lack of xorgcfg and the seeming lack of documentation on writing a proper xorg.conf file led me to install Ubuntu Netbook Edition on the Eee. Works like a champ.

Need to get a touchscreen installed now!

Computers and Netbooks and UNIX26 May 2010 03:11 pm

I’ve been doing some work on my Eee PC lately trying to decide which OS to load on it. I had Windows on it for a while and that worked, then I set it aside when I got the Dell Mini 10v and Hackintoshed it. I was going to set the Eee up for one of my parents, but decided that the larger screen and keys on the Mini 10v would be better for them. So I’ve got that as an ongoing to-do project.

My initial idea was to run FreeBSD on my Eee. I ran into a snag when I realized that FreeBSD’s ACPI support isn’t as mature as Linux’s; therefore, I couldn’t hibernate the system. I grew addicted to hibernate on my old Vostro 1400, and it was a serious boon for productivity on trips and during work days. It’s not been as big an issue on my Macbook Pro as its battery life is far superior to the Vostro’s, though.

I had a working X-less FreeBSD install going, and it was time to get X working. Sadly, I was stymied by a lack of documentation on how to get the Eee’s trackpad working in X. Turns out it involves using moused, but I decided in the end that that was a pain, so I tried PC-BSD. It worked, but KDE is fairly slow, and I didn’t relish the thought of using it. The next try was Gentoo, but I’ve not compiled the Linux kernel in a very long time, and I was unable to find a canned config for the latest version of the kernel, so I decided to try FreeBSD once more. The installer failed to download part of the OS, so I was going to try Gentoo once more.

Then as I sat staring at the kernel configuration menu, I looked at the Arch Linux wiki’s article on the Eee 901. After reading Arch’s “Who We Are” blurb, I decided to give it a whirl.

I’m impressed, to say the least. My long-time bias against running a Linux laptop is the userland interface to netfilter, iptables. It goes without saying that iptables is complicated, and while I consider myself a knowledgable person, the fact that it takes 94 lines to do in iptables what took me just under a dozen to do in pf (OpenBSD’s firewall, which has been ported to the other BSDs) really doesn’t set well with me. Fortunately, some sanity has been brought forth. Ubuntu ships with something called ufw, or Uncomplicated Firewall, and its syntax is quite similar to PF’s. Finding ufw in Arch’s respositories further cemented my use of it.

Getting X installed took a scant 5 minutes as opposed to two hours for Gentoo, and installing the base system was very quick. All this using Arch’s cleverly-named package manager “pacman” (how Namco doesn’t sue them I’ll never know). A proper resolutioned framebuffer console with the stock kernel was a nice touch as well.

Tonight’s plot involves getting other software installed then deciding which window manager to use. My “go to” one for years has been WindowMaker, but for a desktop environment I prefer XFCE or GNOME. The new paradigm of tiled window managers is quite interesting, so we shall see.

I’m just glad I have a hard drive in this machine for all this randomness of installing. I will ultimately set up a large-capacity fast SSD in it, but for now, the hard drive works fine. Now to get all the bluetooth/aircard dialing set up. This will be fun stuff indeed!

Embedded and Networking and UNIX07 May 2010 04:16 pm

Sometimes I dislike slow days at work as I start reading and reading and reading. I reread the EVDO Stompbox Project and something clicked with me: I remembered the mini-PCI slot in my net4501. While I’ve only used mini-PCI cards in notebook computers over the years, I never had a need to use it in the Soekris because I had a PCI wireless card and it has a single PCI slot.

But further research lead to something I’d read a while ago as well: the state of ral(4) in OpenBSD. Ralink released the hardware specs for their wireless chipsets without an NDA, so the drivers are very very very well written and stable, plus they support WPA-PSK.

I can find a supported Ralink-based mini-PCI wireless card for a very low price, u.fl-smaF pigtails are probably cheap, and I have several antennas for 2.4GHz already.

This solves one issue in the network box problem!

Networking and UNIX26 Mar 2010 11:38 am

A few years back during one of my silly phases, I translated all the computers in my house’s names into Japanese, using either the actual word or something similar. I had named my desktop ‘lunar’, so that became ‘tsuki’ (moon), the gateway machine was named ‘kadoguchi’ (gateway), and I had named my parents’ machine ‘iris’ so that became ‘shibori’ (camera/eye iris). This practice has continued to this day.

Why did I choose this naming convention? No reason, it’s just a somewhat unique one and certainly more interesting than the typical room1pc1 setup a lot of people do.

‘tsuki’ later became a FreeBSD server when I discovered that making my laptop my primary machine was the best idea for me as a commuting college student, where it remained until about 3 years ago when I switched it off “for good.”

With spring upon us, the want to do some serious cleaning in the computer room to make room for the rack one of my friends has for me has arisen. With a rack, I will need machines to put in it, so I decided that with the 2U case I have, I’ll rebuild tsuki. The motherboard and CPU will be the same, but I’ll put new RAM, a SATA controller card, and new drives in it.

The basic plan for now is to use FreeBSD 8.0-RELEASE, with a 320 GB IDE drive for /, and a 1 TB SATA RAID-1 array as /home, using gvinum. I will probably set up Asterisk in addition to the usual suspects: ssh, Apache, Shoutcast, and the like.

While the base system is an older Sempron, running 2GB of RAM should be more than sufficient for the day-to-day operation of it.

Once tsuki’s rebirth is completed, I will very possibly begin work on a Windows server, based on this older Tyan server board I picked up. This one will be the multi-TB drive array machine, if only for hilarity’s sake.

All in all, getting all this up and running again will be a fun task that should keep my brain working for a while.

And now, back to work!

Embedded and Networking and UNIX12 Mar 2010 11:45 pm

I decided to dig out the big plug strip and hook all the materials up to see if they worked together before I begin the pure DC phase of the experiment. After massaging pf a little bit to make the bridge work, I managed to get an IP wirelessly with the WAP plugged into the 3rd NIC port instead of the hub. All the devices cooperated nicely and it all seems to work fine!

Now to begin plotting on the second phase: acquiring the elements for powering the system via DC direct instead of multiple wall warts.

Once the power is figured out, then comes building the box itself. Going to need to do some measurements and figure placements out. Once the box is built out, field testing will commence!

Embedded and Networking and UNIX12 Mar 2010 10:15 pm

I loaded OpenBSD on the Soekris and did the necessary configuration tweaks to get all the interfaces assigned properly and the like tonight. I also adjusted the Cradlepoint (turning off WiFi, adding DMZ, etc.) for the system. Now to get it all hooked up and tested at some point.

Embedded and Netbooks and Networking and UNIX12 Mar 2010 04:49 pm

A few years back, some friends and I had the crazy idea to utilize my MFJ-1800 2.4GHz Yagi antenna and a PC set up as a “reverse AP” to allow us all to use the hotel’s free wifi at a convention. The only downside to this was that we didn’t have wireless for ourselves, but that wasn’t too big of a deal: we had circumvented the pay access in the room using technology. Sadly, that hole was plugged the next year, and we were forced to pay for access… Such is life.

Moving forward to last year’s convention and our staying in a different hotel, I decided that I’d just suck it up and pay for access as it wasn’t too much. Though, before we actually settled down in the room that evening, I had ran by the T-Mobile store at the nearby mall and came extremely close to purchasing one of the webConnect USB sticks (which I now have) so we would have access without having to pay the hotel. I opted against that, but planned to get one before the year was out. Fortunately for me, T-Mobile had a promo for $10 less/month on the access not long afterwards, so I now have one to use for access mostly everywhere.

The obvious item for aircard owners with friends that attend conventions and trade shows is to pick up one of the aircard routers on the market. While I own a Soekris net4501 and have long thought to emulate the EVDO Stompbox Project using it, the lack of good driver support in OpenBSD for the Huawei UMG181 webConnect stick and my dislike of iptables had me pick up a Cradlepoint CTR350 broadband travel router to use. One thing I missed in the documentation was the client limit of 15 on its wireless. While I seriously doubt I’ll ever exceed that number, having a hard limit on the amount of clients that could be attached didn’t sit well with me at all, so I started brainstorming.

Back last month, I set up an old Power Mac G4 as an OpenBSD router using the macppc port. It functions flawlessly, and the flexibility of pf continues to shine. I thought about one of the major purposes that Soekris boards are used for and ran by Micro Center to pick up a good 2GB CF card to toss in it once I get OpenBSD built out on it. Fortunately for me, the author of flashdist has disk images set aside already for the net45xx series, which I will throw on the CF card sometime this weekend. The only downside to this setup is the utilization of “double NAT” in connectivity. Of course, this is no different than what we’ve already been using, so I really don’t see an issue with it.

Just how am I going to get around the 15-client limit of the Cradlepoint? While I certainly could use the Soekris as an access point: it’s one of those little green boxes’ primary uses, I’d much rather have a dedicated WAP set up like I do at home because of a couple of small things that may not work right: namely, UMA for my Blackberry. Just so happens I have an old La Fonera wireless router with DD-WRT loaded on it. I ran this as my WAP for a while at the house, and I reloaded it with DD-WRT before the convention last year and set it up as the WAP. While it works flawlessly, it gets rather warm. Not too much of an issue for a system that will run very infrequently.

Now how does this all piece together? Turns out that every single device I plan to connect together to create this connectivity backbone runs off either 5v or 12v DC. The two 5v devices, the Fonera and the CTR350, can be plugged into a 12v source using cigarette lighter sockets. The Soekris and my old Netgear EN108TP 8-port hub are 12v, so they will plug right in. My original plan involved debricking the WGR614L I toasted last year and using it as it was 12v and would reduce the amount of cig plugs.

The trick to this was building a small power distribution panel with screw terminals so they’d be very secure. Turns out this would be more of a pain than I originally thought, so I went back to the original plan that I thought of: using Anderson PowerPoles for the power connections and a power panel with those on them. In the end, deciding to go with PowerPoles for the power connections really was best: I won’t be tied down to the power supply, so I could feasibly run the setup off my car’s battery if I so decided. I probably will never do that, but it is an idea.

Converting standard wall current to 12v for the network devices was something I mulled over a lot with my original plan. I needed a small (10A or so) power supply with a cigarette receptacle on it. The smallest I could find at work was 25A and way overkill for what I needed. After I decided on PowerPoles, the decision was simple: Astron SS-10 switching power supply. It’s quite small and supplies enough power: 7A continuous, 10A 33% duty cycle. I seriously doubt all this hardware I have will ever exceed 7A for more than just a short period of time.

Now the really hard part is figuring out how to connect all of this together in a secure matter. I’ve done a lot of research in the past couple of days on the “go boxes” used by people who handle various events. One idea that probably won’t be too difficult to set up is to build a shelf and mount it in a case of some sort for carry. I’d probably pick something waterproof like an ammo box in case I get rained on for the convention like what happened last year. Otherwise, I’ll build out something very easy to set up and carry.

Overall, this is going to be one fun project. I’m very glad I have just over 6 months to get it set up! I do think that in the long run, streamlining my portable network setup will be very beneficial for myself, my friends, my family, and whoever else I can think of.

If anything, it’ll give me something interesting to write about as I continue to build it out.

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