Building a Better Cradlepoint

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.

The Netbook OS Shuffle, Part the Second!

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!

The Netbook OS Shuffle!

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!

Home Network Rearranging

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!

Privilege Escalation

Old, but had to be posted.

Old Server Online Temporarily

So I fired tsuki up tonight! The 200GB drive I had for my home directory is toast, but the 60GB that was the primary drive still yet lives, and its MySQL database with it! There’s a fairly large amount of data on it that belongs to people, so if you had an account there, let me know and I’ll reset your password. You’ll have to use ssh/sftp/scp to connect to it though as I’m not poking holes in for FTP just yet.

I’ll leave it up and running for a bit as it’s a terribly old install of FreeBSD and I want to work on getting things set in motion to get the board in a new case with new drives and such. If anyone needs data burned off and mailed to them, I can do that as well.

The major reason I did this was to get the old WordPress database out of it so I could import the 2005 posts from it into here so this blog goes back to its true beginning. A nice ancillary to it was discovering that my old social linkshell’s website still was on there and worked. I need to see how easy it is to move it off there since there’s a lot of very old memories there.

This is really exciting in a way! I forgot how much stuff I had on that machine, and a lot of it needs a good home.

The Convention Conundrum

Here’s a scenario: you’ve found a {convention|hamfest|trade show|conference} you want to attend, have a hotel picked out, and have your method of transportation picked out. What you don’t know, though, is if you want to leave out Sunday evening or Monday morning. This was the scenario I ended up with in 2005 when it was decided that my group was going to get a room for Anime Weekend Atlanta.

I made reservations at the Renaissance Waverly earlier in the year and decided to go from Thursday to Sunday in my naïveté. As we rushed to exit the room Sunday morning, I decided that next year I would reserve from Thursday to Monday. I think that the tremendous crowd at the front desk Sunday morning was enough to dissuade me from booking for Sunday departure the next year. Furthermore, the rush to exit conspace to take a friend to the airport to catch his flight home wasn’t fun either.

I do a small amount of travel for my job, attending hamfests throughout the Southeast. In every case, we’re checking out of the hotel early Sunday morning to work the day and go home. This is to streamline the “putting the store back together” process.

In 2008, I went to three out-of-down conventions: Anime Boston, A-Kon, and Otakon. In each of these, I chose to fly home on Sunday. At AB and Otakon, I had access to public transit, so getting home wasn’t too big of a deal. At A-Kon, I had to rely on a longtime friend of mine to get me around. Fortunately, we decided after checking out that the con wasn’t worth staying at, so we dropped his wife off at their house then went and hung out for a bit before I departed.

All in all, I’ve determined over the past few years that whenever it’s feasible financially to stay over an extra day. I especially see this at AWA as I get to hang out with both my out-of-town friends and local friends at the same time. This leads to much random awesome that usually ends up with us being up half the night. Therefore, waking up at 8 or 9 on Sunday only to rush like madmen to get out of the hotel is usually deemed a bad idea.

As September rapidly approaches and this year’s plans for AWA continue to be set in motion, I prepare myself mentally, physically, financially, and emotionally for that weekend. I will definitely relish checking out on Monday instead of Sunday this year yet again.

Project Update

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!

Importing Fun!

I imported the pre-FFXI blog posts from my other WordPress blog, so this goes back to 2006 now. Now to figure out how to pull the ones off the big server. I probably will boot with the original drives in first so I can grab those off it before I go nuts with the full setup. Need to look into that in the next few days.

Musings on Networks

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.