Cellular and Computers and Conventions and Embedded and Networking07 Sep 2012 09:39 pm

Every year I’ve looked at Anime Weekend Atlanta as more than a chance to hang out with friends from out of town because of the rather unique situation having several laptop wielders in the same hotel room can present. Therefore, I come up with all sorts of hair-brained network schemes to get everyone online from the same connection, be it the wired connection in the hotel room or using a Yagi antenna to grab free WiFi from the lobby thru skylights or the floor. Last year’s was probably the most amusing: a Clear WiMax USB card plugged into a Cradlepoint router, connected to a normal wireless router with a Yagi antenna pointed downstairs to con ops where another router with a high-gain vertical antenna received the signal which was then repeated by a fourth router with an even higher-gain vertical. It was as insane as you can imagine!

This year, however, I’ve decided to just be “normal” and scale everything back to a reasonable level: I’ll use my T-Mobile 3.75G card with the aforementioned Cradlepoint for the precious little time I plan to spend in the hotel room.

It’s fortunate, as it saves a lot of room because I won’t be dragging a 16x16x10 or 20x20x12 box with stuff in it with me.

Guess I’m getting old. ;)

Computers and Networking05 Aug 2010 03:30 pm

DEF CON was this past weekend, and in usual fashion, the staff of the convention had projected onto a screen the “Wall of Sheep”: a list of usernames and obfuscated passwords that were transmitted in the clear on the convention’s wireless network. As DEF CON has doubtlessly the most hostile wireless network ever seen, ensuring that all transmissions are conducted in a secure fashion is paramount at this particular convention.

With the proliferation of publicly accessible wireless networks, one must be certain to use caution when checking things such as email. Some email providers have SSL enabled, so that solves that problem, but what about unencrypted web page logins, like forums? How does one secure these?

My solution to secure all traffic uses OpenVPN, a freely available VPN solution that works on pretty much any operating system. I won’t go into excessive detail in this post, but it is actually fairly easy to set up. My first brush with it was when I ran IPCop on my router machine. The OpenVPN add-on for IPCop, ZERINA, generates configuration bundle zip files that make connecting simple. Setting up one from scratch isn’t much more difficult, but it can be time-consuming to set up properly.

OpenVPN works great for a temporary tunnel, but for something more permanent, IPsec is a better choice as it requires less CPU overhead. The configuration of IPsec is beyond the scope of this post, however.

I’ll write a follow-up to this in the next few days explaining my setup, but for now know that if you’re going to be using an open, unencrypted wireless network, be aware that passing cleartext passwords can be a very perilous mistake.

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 Networking17 May 2010 02:32 pm

With the last of /home dealt with, I will be powering tsuki down tonight to prep for a rebuild. In my locating its drives the other day, I noticed that I have a spare 160GB IDE drive. That will make a perfect start for it. Additionally, the 250W power supply that’s in the 2U case already should suffice for the system since it’s not going to be using an overpowered video card. So that’s two items down in the setup.

Rebuilding tsuki in the 2U case will be the first step in rearranging and rebuilding my network to a point past its former zenith. The next step is moving the printer and my mother’s computer out of the computer room into the kitchen. The second step is probably more important as it will clear up a rather large amount of desk space for me to move my desktop to a temporary location as I continue to clean up the computer room in preparation for the rack.

Once enough room has been cleared out for the rack, I’ll roll it in and start putting hardware in it. The first things to go in are the rackmount switch and tsuki, then once I get a large enough shelf, my desktop. Putting my desktop in the rack will allow me to return to my old computer desk after being away from it for almost 8 years. My crazy idea back in ’02 to switch my old desktop to a server pulled me away from it, but soon I will be back in front of it. I rather liked that desk, and the router Mac is sitting in its computer spot.

I have a few other machines that will need rackmounting, so I’ll be picking up more shelves for them. Pictures will definitely be posted once this is all set up.

And once the initial transfer is done, I get to start pricing even more equipment to get the remaining machines set up how I want them. Should be quite the fun project!

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!

Cellular and Computers and Networking05 May 2010 12:49 pm

A long time ago in a college campus not far from here, I sat and built out a notebook computer that I wanted on Dell’s website. As I went down the list of options, I picked most of the standard options until I got to one that stumped me, the network card.

I had a choice between an ethernet/modem combo card (which I later went with) and a wireless card. In that day, notebook computers often had only one mini-PCI slot for interfaces as wireless LANs weren’t nearly as widespread in 2002 as they are today in 2010. I picked the combo card because I didn’t have a WLAN at home at that point, nor did I come across too many until a while later. I also knew that I could use the PC Card slot for a wireless card without adding too much bulk to the machine.

So in April 2002, I decided to go for wifi at the house and picked up a Linksys WAP11 and an ORiNOCO Silver card for my laptop. While I still was unable to locate wireless at school, I was wireless at the house, and soon afterwards we set up a WLAN on 56k at work. While the work WLAN was ludicrously slow thanks to 56k’s lack of speed, it worked. But, I still didn’t have access at all places I hung around as the school still didn’t have wireless.

The biggest boon to my connectedness was porting my cell number to T-Mobile from Sprint in early 2004. Moving to a GSM network enabled me to use GPRS, later EDGE, and even later HSDPA, via Bluetooth tethering. While this was significantly slower than my home connection, it allowed me to have access wherever I went. As I got better and better phones, I started leaving the laptop behind as regular phones became more and more “smart.” Furthermore, I started seeing fewer and fewer reasons to bring the laptop along as I had gotten most of my personal projects done and was done with classes.

Today in 2010, however, society in general is almost too connected. I and many other people carry Blackberries, the iPhone is probably the best selling phone of all time, Windows Mobile still has a strong market, and the Droid and other Android-based devices are gaining market share rapidly. Additionally, many people who have the aforementioned smartphones also carry aircards with them so they can use the phone at the same time as their laptops.

All of this has lead to more random research on my part. While I mentioned before that OpenBSD doesn’t have good support for my aircard, the Huawei UMG181, I have discovered that FreeBSD indeed does have support for it in 8-STABLE. The u3g driver has its device ID in the source, so I will very likely load that up on my netbook and build that module from recent source. While I appreciate Linux’s merits and can be made to stand Windows, all in all, I tend to prefer the BSDs (which I’d include Mac OS X in, heh).

In closing, while the proliferation of wireless connections, either WiFi or 3G cellular has created an “always on” society and enabled people to remove the tether from their desk and go out of the office to work, by and large, the old traditional wired network is the best option whenever possible. Reason being that you can have higher throughput, potentially gigabit or faster, and better security as the data is transmitted on a wire instead of “free to air.” For this reason, I still run wired ethernet to my desktop at home. I guess I’ll never get over this prejudice against wireless for something that’s not a laptop, but it will eventually necessitate itself I think.

I still need to find more excuses to use my aircard though. But that’s a subject for another post.

Cellular and Conventions and Embedded and Hamfests and Networking24 Apr 2010 12:16 pm

Earlier this week, I read on that T-Mobile was making another promo on their webConnect (aircard) service. I had cashed in on a promo plan towards the end of last year for $50/mo instead of $60/mo, but this one is even more awesome: “Overage Free” rate plan for $40/mo. What this means is that while the (now) soft cap of 5GB exists, past that they may throttle you down to EDGE speeds. I can live with that, and the fact that it isn’t a guaranteed throttle makes it even better.

What does this mean for the net-in-a-box project? It means EPIC AWESOME. I no longer have to worry too much about whether or not it goes over 5GB, and even if we go over 5GB at a con, I’m certain that EDGE speeds are still faster than a hotel connection shared with a full hotel. That’s assuming they enforce it heavily.

Needless to say, I phoned up 611 yesterday morning and got the plan switched over. I definitely await the forthcoming summer activities with this semi-unlimited data plan!

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!

Next Page »