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Jan. 27th, 2013

Odd Lots

  • Cisco has sold their Linksys home-router business to Belkin. I've used Linksys gear for ten years now, know it well, and like it as much as I like any given brand. Getting it out of Cisco's hands, where it had languished, is a good thing.
  • From a long-time Contra commenter I know only as bcl, here's a very detailed technical review of USB chargers, which are not all the same based on equal output specs.
  • I'm trying to figure out what Ten Gentle Opportunities is "like" (a comp, I think they call it) and have asked those who've read the first draft. Someone recommended Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, which I've never seen nor heard of. Will begin looking for copies in local used bookstores.
  • IBM is perfecting an anti-microbial gel that they claim bacteria cannot develop resistance to. IBM. God love 'em--because the way things are going, we are gonna need this, and need it bad.
  • Then again, IBM also says that Steampunk will be the next big thing. Wait a minute. I thought Steampunk was the last big thing. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.)
  • I'm getting recommendations on surplus dealers I've never heard of from all corners. Here's Twin Cities retailer Ax-Man Surplus, courtesy Lee Hart.
  • Lee also passed along the sad news that Glenwood Sales in Rochester NY, where I spent a great deal of money 1979-1984, is no more.
  • Pete Albrecht sent word of C&H Surplus in Duarte California. I used to have a print catalog from them and it vanished somewhere along the way, but the firm exists and sells mostly industrial surplus (motors, fans, compressors, etc.)
  • I stumbled on a nice free wallpaper site while looking for wood texture images, and there's a lot of very good stuff there. That said, the single picture they have of a bichon is awful.
  • Bill Cherepy sent a link to a Steampunk workspace. Looks cool. As with most Steampunk keyboards, it looks uncomfortable. Love the tube amp, though it's not really Steampunk. He needs a new (old?) mouse.
  • Sex with Neanderthals may have ram-charged our immune system and in other ways made us stronger. Genetic diversity is always good. And I'll reiterate here that I have serious doubts about Homo Sap wiping out the Neanderthals. I think the Neanderthals wiped themselves out. Tribalism is fatal. Make sure your loyalties are diverse. Never throw poop at other tribes. Throw it at your own tribal leaders. If you can't do that, well, you're pwned.
  • Cats with jet packs...in 1584. Except I don't think it's really a jetpack. Given the bird's unnecessary jet pack, I suspect that they are acting as living firebombs. The past sucked. I'm glad I'm here.
  • We've had a so-so winter so far; could use more water coming out of the sky. However, it's about to get cold again. Perhaps I could use one of these. (Does anybody else flash on H. R. Giger looking at that damned thing?)
  • There are certified zombie shotgun shells. Haven't seen Bigfoot flip-flops yet, though.

Apr. 24th, 2010

Odd Lots

  • From the Words-I-Didn't-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: Fixie, a fixed-gear bicycle; i.e., a bike in which the pedals always move with the rear wheel and coasting is impossible. Fixies are currently the rage among hipsters in stylish cities. It sounds deranged to me, but I lack the hipster gene and value my knees, so what do I know?
  • From Aki Peltonen comes a link to probably the best volcano blog I've ever seen. Great photos, interesting analysis, and reasonably courteous comments. (Boy, you don't see that everywhere!)
  • While we're talking volcanoes, how are the sunsets in the UK? Denmark? Any personal reports from readers here?
  • Many have sent me a link to the Panoramic Wi-Fi Camera, a fascinating gadget that consists of 20 cantennas arranged in a vertical line on a frame that spins 360 degrees horizontally. Spin the device, and a netbook builds a panoramic image of the 2.4 GHz field in the immediate vicinity. Watch the videos. Fascinating on its own merits, and pay attention to what happens when somebody throws a cup of coffee into a nearby microwave oven: The oven blinds the camera to everything else. For all the tooth-gnashing we hear over cellphone radiation, microwave oven RF leakage never seems to get a whisper.
  • This should surprise no one: Google's Street View carcams have also been wardriving. There's less to this than meets the eye (there was a project, now defunct, doing this in 2002) but it's yet another reason I don't power-up my Wi-Fi access point unless I need it for some reason. (My house has Cat5E in the walls, and I use PowerLine bricks for high-speed Net access in odd corners.)
  • Dave Schmarder N2DS has given his homebrew radio site a major upgrade and its own domain, so even if you saw it a few years ago, do take another look. Gorgeous work.
  • We blew through the range of SDHC Flash memory cards in record time: 32 GB cards are now in the supportable $60-$80 range...and 32GB is as big as they get. We did this in four years. Admittedly, SDHC was a cheap'n'easy hack, but hell, what kind of damfool memory standard only increases capacity by 16X? (Even SDXC, which takes us to 2 TB, should have gone much farther.) My guess: Standards authors don't want to be wrong about future advances in hardware, and certainly don't want to be a drag on future innovations by being too explicit about how hardware is supposed to work ten or twelve years on. I can see both sides. That doesn't make it any less annoying.
  • From Michael Covington comes a pointer to a 1952 riff on beer and ham radio, and a glimpse of what cash-poor radio guys dreamed of the year I was born. I've never met anybody who ever had such a rack (the radios, the radios!) but beer was and remains very big in radio shacks to this day. K1NSS is the cartoonist behind the Dash books, about a dog who does ham radio. (I found him last year while researching names for our current puppy...)

Mar. 5th, 2010

A Viral SSID

First of all, you can stop worrying about me--Carol and I took an intense week-long trip to Chicago tending to family business, and I just couldn't summon the energy to post while I was there.

But I was reminded of an interesting thing on the trip home, while we waited at the gate for our plane at O'Hare. I opened my new laptop to check for connectivity, and in addition to the airport's Boingo network, I saw the oft-encountered but poorly understood "Free Public Wifi" SSID. I've seen that SSID in airports on almost every trip I've taken in the last three or four years, well-aware that it's not anything like free connectivity. I've always assumed that it was a virus running on somebody else's close-by laptop, because it's not an infrastructure node like an access point, but an ad-hoc (peer-to-peer) node instead.

Well, it is a virus, but one of a truly fascinating sort. And that may be a little unfair. It's not malware in the sense of adverse execution on the machine, but a consequence of some Windows foolishness in XP and (possibly) more recent versions. The "Free Public Wifi" SSID spreads virally without the help of anything except Windows itself. I never completely understood the mechanism until I looked it up yesterday. There's a great writeup here, and I'll summarize:

Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) is the part of Windows that manages Wi-Fi connections. When enabled, it will do the following when the machine is booted:

  1. It looks to see if one of your preferred network SSIDs is present in the list of detected infrastructure networks, and will connect if present. Failing that,
  2. It attempts to connect "blind" to infrastructure networks on your preferred list that are not detected, to cover the possibility that your network's SSID beacon is disabled. This is the Wi-Fi implementation of "security by obscurity," and no one really uses it anymore. Having failed to connect to a hidden infrastructure node,
  3. WZC will look to see if one of your preferred network SSIDs is present in detected ad-hoc networks, and will connect if it finds one.
  4. Now the weirdness begins: If none of your preferred network SSIDs is present as an ad-hoc node, and if there is an ad-hoc SSID in your preferred networks list, WZC sets your system up as an ad-hoc network with the first ad-hoc SSID it finds in your preferred list.

Hoo-boy. Read that again: If you've ever connected to an ad-hoc node and no networks in your preferred list are available, your machine becomes an ad-hoc node. This may not be the worst wireless idea ever, but it's right up there. Basically, you've opened a door to your machine, and (depending on your firewall situation) if somebody connects to your laptop through the ad-hoc node that WZC has created, they can browse your shares.

It didn't take malware to make this happen. Windows did it all by its lonesome. Here's a likely scenario explaining why this SSID is so commonly seen in airports:

  1. Somewhere, somewhen, there was a mesh (peer to peer) network named "Free Public WiFi." It was probably legitimate. I don't like mesh networks for various technical reasons, but they have their uses, and there's nothing necessarily scurrilous about them.
  2. An XP user logs into this original "Free Public Wifi" network and connects to the Internet. The SSID is added to their preferred networks list as an ad-hoc node, where it remains. When finished using the mesh network, the XP user breaks the ad-hoc connection and life goes on.
  3. Later on, which could be months or even years, the same user ("User #1") goes to an airport and while waiting for a plane, boots his or her laptop to do some local spreadsheet work. No connectivity is found, so Wireless Zero Configuration happily establishes an ad-hoc node called "Free Public WiFi."
  4. A nearby XP user ("User #2") boots a laptop, looking for connectivity. He or she sees "Free Public Wifi" as an available network, and (naively) clicks to connect. An ad-hoc connection is established to User #1's laptop. Nothing happens, since neither user is connected to the Internet. However, the "Free Public Wifi" SSID is added to User #2's preferred networks list. User #2's plane eventually comes in, and he or she shuts down the laptop, disappointed that no free connection was found.
  5. Later on, User #2 is again at an airport and boots the laptop. WZC establishes an ad-hoc node, and this time, two users see the "Free Public WiFi" SSID and connect. Again, nothing either good or bad happens, but the "Free Public WiFi" ad-hoc SSID is added to the preferred networks list of both User #3 and User #4.
  6. User #3 and User #4 (neither of whom have any idea what's going on) boot their laptops at other airports, or at conference centers, or some place where laptops tend to congregate. Similarly naive users connect, looking for a free Internet connection, and add "Free Public WiFi" to their preferred networks list.
  7. Contagion continues, as road warriors spread the SSID as explained above.

Although malware isn't involved, this is far from harmless, since an ad-hoc connection is a door to your machine. Your firewall will probably stop any shenanigans...if you have it working and configured correctly. Some people won't.

Note well that this only happens if your system has the WZC service running. If you have vendor-specific software installed to manage your wireless subsystem (as all newer Dell laptops do) this craziness won't occur. Only if Windows and WZC are in charge of wireless are you vulnerable. The solution? Limit your connections to infrastructure networks. There's a step-by-step at the end of this article.

Other such viral SSIDs exist; I've seen "hpsetup" and "default" myself, and others have been reported. Any ad-hoc network SSID can go viral with the help of Windows Wireless Zero Configuration. The "hpsetup" SSID was "contracted" from certain HP printers that connect to laptops via ad-hoc connections. I've only confirmed this on XP; the issue may have been resolved with Vista and 7. It's a fascinating example of unintended consequences in system design, and should become a textbook case in CS coursework. (Why don't I think that this will ever happen?)

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Jan. 12th, 2010

Odd Lots

  • We take digital clocks for granted, but this project may give you some perspective on just how difficult a challenge a digital clock really is. Absent integrated circuits, it takes over 1200 discrete electronic components to make a 6-digit digital clock. And you can get a kit.
  • Maybe RCA's engineers are having a little fun with us. It's hard to tell sometimes, but I still don't understand how this thing is not a hoax. I maybe know a little bit about both RF power physics (37 years in ham radio) and Wi-Fi. If there's a place in the world with enough Wi-Fi hotspots to make that little box generate useful power, please tell me where, so I can be sure never to go anywhere near it.
  • Several people have noticed that my author bio photo on Amazon has been replaced by someone else's. Most oddly, the photo is of my old friend Jon Shemitz of Santa Cruz, who's done some very good books on Kylix and .NET 2.0. I've been trying to get Amazon's attention for a couple of weeks now, no luck yet.
  • Classmates.com did it again: They sent me an email asking whether I'd like to reconnect with a girl from my high school class. As I've said before, Lane Tech High was all-male until several years after I graduated, so there was no Teresa Mazzerelli in my class--nor does she appear in the alumni directory. One I could call a database error. Two I call fraud. Don't give these guys your money.
  • Malt is my favorite ice cream flavor, but it's very hard to come by. Several companies have offered it in the last ten or twelve years, including Meadow Gold and Boulder, but the flavor has always vanished after a few months. I guess I may just have to make my own.
  • Sprint may be partnering with Wal-Mart to put WiMax nodes on top of every single Wal-Mart in the country. This is not the first time I've heard this, and have reported on it before, but having had some experience with something a little like WiMax, I think it could be a huge moneymaker for Wal-Mart if they don't let the control freaks at Sprint ruin it.
  • From the Words-I-Hadn't-Heard-In-Thirty-Years-Until-Yesterday Department: bildungsroman, a coming-of-age novel. Why, then, does it suggest erecting a shrine to the Emperor out of cow pies?

May. 7th, 2008

Odd Lots

  • Here at the condo this morning, I can't bring up squat on the Web because everybody's out there trying to figure out who won the Democratic primaries last night. So I did an absolutely unheard of thing: I went down to the White Hen, got some of their great coffee, and picked up a newspaper. What a notion.
  • I'm hearing more and more people say that Wi-Fi doesn't work as well as it used to, which is weird because microwave physics hasn't changed recently. But...look at how many APs Windows can see from wherever you are. From my kitchen table here, NetStumbler sensed twelve APs...and walking around inside our dinky little condo picked up four more. Three of the strongest signals were on default Channel 6—and five out of sixteen were cleverly named "linksys." I don't think it's the physics, folks.
  • After Meetup.com went all-paid (and highly paid) I investigated an alternative called Gatheroo, which later (in response to another damfool lawsuit from somebody) became Zanby. The site's been redesigned and is worth a look if you want to start a meatspace social network where you live. There are both free and paid levels of participation, and it's certainly not as expensive as Meetup.
  • Matthew Reed (and lots of others after him) sent me pointers to articles about the recent implementation of memristors, which are a species of passive electronic component postulated in 1971 but not actually implemented until HP researchers made some earlier this year. Whether this interests you varies directly by the strength of your passion for electronics, and whereas I understand the concept now, my head is still spinning trying to figure out what it implies. Everybody's talking about better computer memory, sure...but what could this do in simple analog circuits?
  • Jim Strickland sent me a pointer to a YouTube video about a flame triode amplifier/oscillator lashup, and guys, you gotta see this. It's basically a vacuum tube without either vacuum or tube: When the electrodes get hot, it starts amplifying. I don't fully understand the physics yet, but this would be one fantastic high school science fair project. The question arose in our local group as to whether this could be considered steampunkish, and I'm not sure. People in the steampunk era had no problems generating reasonably hard vacuum and blowing glass envelopes. What they had problems with was understanding electrons. Nonetheless, with a big enough flame and some honkin' batteries, you could have done some impressive things back in 1888.
  • Global Cooling adherents have been sending me pointers to Watts Up With That, and Icecaps.us. Fascinating reading, including numerous facets of the climate change discussion that you won't see in Big Media. F'rinstance: Weather monitoring installations that were built sixty or seventy years ago out in the leafy countryside have recently become surrounded by new development, buildings, pavement, etc., and as a result are now in the middle of heat islands. What might that do to long-term temperature data? Hmmmm....

Jun. 8th, 2007

Odd Lots

  • Odd Lots have been piling up here recently, so let's burn a few, starting with a dog-powered scooter that the Make Blog called to my attention. Two small bike wheels and a ride-em lawnmower seat plus some aluminum tubing—damn, I could do that! (QBit just went and hid under the bed...)
  • Robert Bruce Thompson of Building the Perfect PC fame, sent me an excellent 32-page minibook on Wi-Fi security, which you can download free from from O'Reilly's Web site. It's a PDF in a 7 MB ZIP, and the link takes you to the directory so you can get it any way you prefer. I used Bob's book to build my main machine here, and the second edition is a must-have if you intend to build your first custom PC out of separate components.
  • Forbes has a short piece on the way ebooks are keeping the romance genre afloat. Garish covers can be embarrassing if someone sees one in your hands on the train going in to work, but if you're reading it on your cellphone, well, nobody will know. I met these people at BEA a few years ago, and whatever you may think of their subject matter, they really know what they're doing.
  • One of my readers wrote to tell me that Lulu had sent him a pretty strange book: A Carl & Jerry Volume 3 cover wrapped around the body of Getting Real by 37 Signals. That's fairly benign; what Lulu does not want to do is wrap a cover from The Cuddly Puppy of Wiggle Farm around Goth Moon Over Femdom Castle.
  • My taste in games is legendarily bad, but Blueprint from Teagames (requires Flash) may be worth a look.
  • Jim Strickland sent me this, and while some people may think it's funny, an awful lot of guys simply have no clue. I don't know if dressing well attracts girls, or if it simply doesn't drive them away like dressing badly does. Being confident, dancing well, and having a sense of humor work better, but it's hard to teach such things on a Web site. (It may not be possible to teach confidence at all.)
  • I have not found a duplicate of the 1990 parts tower I bought from Turnkey, but several people sent me notes saying that MSC Direct has something similar from Akro-Mils. Way bigger, and not as suitable for very small parts. $500 without the bins. Yikes.
  • But that may be dirt cheap next to a truly special computer book that Bruce Baker found on ABEBooks. Something's seriously wrong here. Those prices are beginning to look like purely random numbers.
  • On the other hand, did you wonder (like me) how people selling books on Amazon for a penny can make money? (See my entry for June 6, 2007.) Here's how.
  • If you want to really really really really erase that hard disk for some reason (remember that recovering old data from used hard drives purchased on eBay is something of a geek sport) read this.
  • Something I learned recently: Frederic Nausea was the bishop of Vienna in the early 1500s. As Wikipedia puts it, "When the Council was reopened at Trent in 1551, Nausea was present." He attended the Diet of Nuremberg in 1524, but, rather remarkably, was not at the Diet of Worms.

Feb. 12th, 2007

Odd Lots

  • Quite a few people sent me an interesting way to remap keyboard keys under Windows, for which I'm thankful, but (because it's a Registry tweak) it will need some time and care to test. I will report here as soon as possible.
  • The most recent Atlantic tells us that eighteen percent of all greenhouse gases released are associated with the livestock industry, and include fossil fuels used to create fertilizer and heat barns, not to mention, um, cow farts.
  • From Pete Albrecht comes a pointer to an entire Web site about anagrams, focusing largely on a software application that accepts a text string and spits out anagrams of that text string. There is a Web-based trial version into which I typed "Jeff Duntemann" and got "Jet fun man fend." Eh. Nonsense. So I typed in "The Cunning Blood" and got "Ugh! Bold innocent." That might in fact describe the Sangruse Device, though it's an interesting philosophical question regarding the innocence of an AI. "The software is $50." ("Worthiest. Safe.")
  • Speaking of The Cunning Blood, from Mike Reith comes an article about a "microfluidic computer" now in research labs. In my novel, electronics is impossible on the planet Hell, so the Hellions use analog calculators based on air pressure (in essence, pneumatic slide rules) and fluidic computers. I did not make up fluidics; I read about it in Popular Mechanics back in the 60s, and it's always fascinated me a little.
  • Carl and Jerry: Their Complete Adventures, Volume 1 will be reviewed (by George Ewing WA8WTE) in the April CQ Magazine. I am racing to get Volume 2 mounted and available by the time the CQ review hits the mailboxes, hence slightly sparse entries on Contra lately. Still have some work to do, but I should make it in time.
  • Here's some additional detail on the P2P Wi-Fi "man-in-the-middle" attack I happened upon while waiting in the O'Hare terminal coming home from Chicago. (See my entry for January 4, 2007.) I didn't connect (I'm not that stupid) but I wondered about the wisdom of mounting such an attack in a secured area crawling with law enforcement types. Now, it seems, that it's a trojan, and the people whose laptops the attack runs on don't even know they're running it!

Oct. 1st, 2006

Odd Lots

  • Larry Nelson sent me a pointer to a site where you can download free PDF generators for a great many different kinds of graph paper, including some very odd stuff (for Americans, at least) like penmanship guide paper for Chinese ideograms. Music staffs, ledger sheets, guitar fretboard diagrams, and lots more. Brilliant stuff. All he lacks is "do-it" list paper. I'll request it; surely that's as important as Palmer Method for Genkoyushi!
  • Bill Higgins attended the Rocket Belt Convention in Niagara Falls earlier this month, and wrote brilliantly about it in his blog. I have doubts about rocket belts as a real-world concept, but of course they're what almost all geeks dream about. Read Bill's blog starting on September 23 and on for the next few days. (He actually got to try on—if not fly—the original Bell rocket belt!) Also check out his convention photos on Flickr. Also do read his reposted 1992 essay about rocket belts and other unlikely flying machines.
  • Related to the above is an exhibit of the work of Ky Michaelson, whom Bill Higgins characterizes as someone as close to a grown-up Tom Swift as humanity is likely to produce. Get lost in the site for awhile and see if you don't agree. A rocket-powered wheelchair! Yee-hah!
  • Sandisk has announced 12 GB and 16 GB Compact Flash memory cards, which should be available by the first of the year. This market is being driven by very high resolution professional digital photography, but if you really really need to be able to take 16,000 snapshots on your Kodak pocket camera before dumping to disk, well, here's your ticket.
  • Although the Wi-Fi business has been a little sleepy since Wireless-G finally happened a couple of years ago, I'm seeing an occasional flash of brilliance in terms of new niche products. One interesting approach is to build a USB Wi-Fi client adapter right into a fat vertical gain antenna, as is done in the WaveRV system from Radiolabs. Although positioned for RVs (which is how I ran across it, through chatter on the Yahoo Groups RV Communications group) it would work just as well in a car. There's no microwave cable loss between the client and the antenna, as all signal is carried between the WaveRV unit and the computer through a USB cable.

Sep. 15th, 2006

Odd Lots

  • Travelpost has a very nice online list of airport Wi-Fi hotspots. There's an alphabetical list of all equipped airports, and a list of the top 20 airports in the country. Colorado Springs has a very nice system, totally free, and cleverly limited to the area by the gates, to keep drive-by spammers out of the system. (On the other hand, I wouldn't try sitting in a car in front of an airport with a laptop in front of me these days...)
  • Alana Joli Abbot posted a link to a subdivision in Bend, Oregon that seems to imply hobbits, but the design of which suggests a set from Götterdammerung. Put that spear down now or we'll call the homeowner's association!
  • Pete Albrecht sent me a link to a piece on a new way to figure a telescope mirror to an accuracy of 1/100 of a wavelength of light. (That is almost unbelievably good; I made a spectacular mirror when I was a teenager that was 1/20 wave accurate, except for a central depression under the shadow of the secondary mirror.) The new method sculpts the surface by shooting ions at the glass and removing silica molecules under computer control. I guess it beats walking around a 55-gallon drum all summer polishing a mirror by hand, not that I had much else to do when I was 15.
  • Several people pointed me to a nice $16 harness assembly that allows you to hook up a hard drive for testing without wedging it into a case. Basically, they cut it to the essentals: A parallel ATA socket with a built-in USB converter, plus a cord-wart power supply. Neat. I think I'll order one.
  • Instead of BASIC (see my entry for September 14, 2006) I would love to see something like Turbo Pascal 3.0 running in a DOS box for kids to hammer on. It's not OOP, but sheesh, it's better than BASIC. (Didn't Borland turn a lot of their ancient stuff loose as free downloads at one point?) The file is so small that DevCo could actually build it into their Turbo Delphi products and invoke it from a menu item.
  • The Australians claim to have discovered a class of peculiar things called "nanobes" that might be a little more alive than viruses but not quite as alive as bacteria—which again fuzzifies the larger question of what life actually is. The immediate idea that occurred to me is that these things could be naturally occurring nanoassemblers, and if we could figure out how they work, we might be able to get them to make stuff to our own design.

Sep. 6th, 2006

Mesh Networking at the Colorado State Fair

Carol and I went down to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo on Labor Day, looking forward to the animals and the quirky fairgrounds food, and found a little more than we had bargained for: The first commercial implementation of citywide mesh networking that I think has a chance in hell.

We were threading our way through the "none of the above" huckster hall (beef jerky, gimmick mops, folding ladders, stain removers) on our way out of the fair at about 3:30 when we found a very professional-looking booth belonging to Airinet, headquartered in Pueblo. On the surface, Airinet looks like a conventional small-town ISP, which is why I almost walked past their booth. Of course, something in my synapses watches for the word "wireless," and when my Wi-Fi sense twitched I ambled over to read their literature while Carol tried out the Intelligel beds a few booths down. By the time she rejoined me a few minutes later, my jaw was on the floor. What these guys were doing was impossible.

Mesh networking has been with us for some time, though it's generally been a community thing: People put a wireless node up on the chimney and run routing software like Locustworld or MIT Roofnet on a dedicated (often junker) PC to bounce packets across nodes close enough to communicate. It's all very spit'n'baling wire, but with the right routing algorithms, people in the mesh can share files and connections to the Internet pretty seamlessly.

This kind of community networking is, of course, the sneakpath around the "last mile" problem that has bedeviled small-town people hoping for broadband ever since there was broadband. The problem with community networks (the Brisbane Mesh is a good example) is that they grow organically; i.e., as interested people bestir themselves to mount and configure a node. This gives you a network, but it's strangely shaped and full of holes and very difficult to route efficiently. What Airinet has done is created an "engineered" mesh network in which they choose where the distribution nodes are placed. The design is such that no node in the network is more than eight hops from the Airinet backhaul link, which is handled via point-to-point radios on a non-Wi-Fi frequency.

This sort of thing has been done before, usually for parks and college campuses and the occasional municipal Wi-Fi cloud. Existing mesh equipment, however, is hugely expensive, and such networks are almost by definition tax-supported cost centers. To build a mesh network that actually makes money, Airinet has designed a custom Wireless-B mesh node that can be manufactured for well under $100, and created a router system (similar to Locustworld) to work efficiently with the networks that they design. The node box is tiny (about the size of a small wireless router) and they deploy it inobtrusively by negotiating with property owners to mount it under eaves and in other out-of-the-way places in keeping with the overall network design. The node can then serve customers in homes anywhere within about about 800 feet, depending on terrain and intervening obstructions.

The nodes run a captive portal not completely unlike those you see at hotel Wi-Fi hotspots. If you're within range of an Airinet node, you connect to the captive portal, read the terms and conditions, and then sign up for 30 days' service at $25 flat. You don't need any hardware apart from a conventional Wireless-B client adapter. The $25 includes 1.5 MB downlink, 1.0 MB uplink, plus a 100 MB email account and a 100MB Web hosting account. Authentication is done via MAC and a password, and the connection is encrypted with a 2,048-bit key, which makes WEP or even WPA a grease spot by comparison.

Although the project has been in development for some time, the State Fair was their rollout and first real public appearance. They currently cover huge swaths of Pueblo and are adding nodes as fast as they can. They plan to target other smaller Colorado towns like Salida or Cañon City once their Pueblo buildout is complete.

All of this comes from a hurried conversation with Airinet's chief techie, David Bueno, and without any white papers or other hard technical information to draw on, I may have misunderstood some of the details. However, I'm going to stay in touch with them and will report here from time to time on their progress. David claims that networks like his will make WiMax obsolete before it even appears. If Airinet works as well as he claims it does (and of course, I can't test it from here) he may well be right.

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