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Personal Telco Monthly Meeting for April 28th 2004

When and Where

Urban Grind Coffee 2214 NE Oregon St. (take 22nd Ave. 2 blocks North of Sandy Blvd.)

Wednesday, April 28th, 6pm-9pm


  • 6:00PM - Introduction to Personal Telco for newcomers.
  • 6:30PM - New node announcements
  • 6:45PM - Irving Popovetsky and Brandon Psmythe of ProStructure

  • 7:15PM - Jason Levitt of Less Networks
  • 7:45PM - Business followed directly by informal meet and greet.



Announcing Ewrt: a Linux distribution for the Linksys WRT54G, forked from the Linksys and Sveasoft code bases. The primary focus of Ewrt is to meet the needs of open wireless network operators by providing a captive portal based on NoCatSplash and large-scale management functionality on a stable and low-cost platform.

Company Bio: [http://www.prostructure.com/ ProStructure] Consulting was founded in 2003 by Brandon Psmythe and Irving Popovetsky following ten years of engineering experience at companies such as Intel, Sprint, UUNet and NetIQ/Webtrends. ProStructure provides high-end network design, information security and DoS defense consulting to advanced IT shops all over the West coast.

Portless Networks is our side project to provide professional wireless deployment services to Enterprise and Commercial real-estate customers. We are also reducing the barrier-to-entry for open wireless network operators with our WRT54G-based platform.

Less Networks

"How Less Networks Helped the Austin Wireless City Project Beat T-Mobile in Six Months"

[http://www.lessnetworks.com Less Networks] creates free software that allows people to create customer-branded Free WiFi hotspots in their community. They've partnered with the [http://www.austinwirelesscity.org Austin Wireless City Project], Austin's community-based wireless user group, to promote free WiFi in Austin.

Agenda Items

  • EarthDay Recap

  • New Nodes This Month
    • Powells Books World Cup
    • Portland Indi Media
  • Wolrd Wide War Drive Info
  • Workshops
  • Node Status
    • (whats up , whats down, what in the works, what need help)
    • Subway getting more bandwidth
    • Backspace upgrade
    • Hostel upgrades

Here's Sam Churchill's Review

Portless Networks, which gave the first of two presentations at the Thursday meeting, is testing a Linksys WRT-54G modification that embeds NoCat inside. The modified Linksys Box, unveiled at last night's PersonalTelco meeting, embeds NoCat captive portal software inside the small, popular 802.11g Linkys box which can be found in office supply stores for around $80. By flashing the on-board memory, coffee shops and other venues can plug the modified Linkys Box directly into a DSL or Cable Modem. It's designed to encourage the proliferation of "free spots" in small businesses.

Currently "free" networks like PersonalTelco, SeattleWireless and others use a computer (either a PC or a Soekris board) running NoCat Auth which provides a splash page and manages the "free" wireless side of a broadband connection. The small, one piece solution promises to make installation of "free spots" much less cumbersome.

While Rob Flickenger’s splash54g and Brian Beattie's BeWitched do much the same thing, developers Irving Popovetsky and Brandon Psmythe of Portless Networks, claim they have improved the reliabily of those earlier efforts.

[NoteBene: Rob's splashwrt54g is a one item hack, it just does nocat and nada else while the Sveasoft firwares, of which ewrt is derived, do tons more stuff, being more a full OS than simply nocat. Its like comparing a spark plug to the whole engine system.

Bewitched is an embeded linux that requires something like a Soekris board and thus is also not an item to compare the ewrt against. -- TomHiggins]

Their software modification requires version 2 (v2) of the Linksys WRT-54G hardware which features a 200mhz MIPS processor, 4mb flash and 16mb of memory. Right now, it's a free effort and still in a testing stage.

[NoteBene: I heard mentioned that the ewrt, as with the sveasoft firmwares, all run on 1.0 and 1.1 hardware. While that hardware has its problems it is still able to run this stuff -- TomHiggins ]

Linksys recently embedded Boingo software into their $200 WRV54G but that device does not use an open source base and cannot use the software developed by Portless Networks directly. Similar one-piece access points are available from Sputnik, Fatport, Pronto and Soekris.

For further information see ProStructure Consulting, Seattlewireless Linksys WRT54G page, The Sveasoft Forums, Jim Buzbee's Batbox wrt54g Linux distribution, Rob Flickenger’s splash54g, Linksys GPL code center, The OpenWRT project, and The Wifi-box project. They like Bob Hestand (503) 704-1247 for hardware distribution.

The second presenter, Jason Levitt of Less Networks, reviewed their community LAN solution. The free community lan software allows people to create customer-branded Free WiFi hotspots. They've partnered with the Austin Wireless City Project, Austin's community-based wireless user group, to promote free WiFi in Austin.

What differentiates their free community lan software? Less Networks has simplifed the installation and uses a centralized server to authenticate. Then it re-directs users to the host's website. The Less Networks software requires you to create a user name and password (although there is no charge). The central server architecture provides centralized management and security funtions. The complications of installing NoCat currently require alpha geek skills. The Less Network's free kickstart software/disk (which just became available last night on SourceForge - somewhere), will enable a "headless" (no keyboard/monitor) and will include the Red Hat distribution and NoCatAuth.

Some PersonalTelco members wanted to know the Less Networks business model; i.e. if it was giving away the software for free, would it sell information about users? Levitt claimed they would not. He said the plan is to (hopefully) make money on premium services. Less Networks primary goal and requirement is free Internet access, he said. Easy installation is the Less Networks key to "beating T-Mobile" [at their own game].

The advantages of using the Less Networks auth server include:

  • Don't need to set up your own auth server or get someone to let you use theirs
  • It's a reliable, professionally-managed public auth server
  • It provides a venue admin with a UI to brand the gateway captive portal (jpg, description, other venue details)
  • It enables users to use their account to login on any of the gateways using the server (currently 18, all in Austin)
  • It's integrated into a growing community of 1700 users who can:
    • o publish personal profiles and browse the published profiles of others o venue-to-venue chat and network-wide chatting. o networkwide IMing (without divulging actual AIM or Yahoo nicks)

      o read/submit/search articles on WiFi categorized by "industry news", "geek," and "general user"

      o venue-specific discussion forums for venue owners to communicate with their WiFi users and for WiFi

  • users to communicate back and with each other

TomHiggins 's Recap

Now that was a pretty amazing meeting. I got to the UG early to rest a bit before the storm but wound up talking or cramming on learning things from 3pm till about 9pm...6 hours of action packed educational filled PTP goodness.

Some Points I picked up during the night

  • Phil Busse popped into the UG early on my time there and we had a chance to talk about the community center the city is inching towards making at the old Washington Monroe High School site. Win loose or draw it sounds like Phil has an interest in the project and a PTP vector is something that he has thought about. Who knows what will happen with all things political but its good to be able to bump into folks interested in this sort of thing at the UG
  • Its good to have Lonnie back. We got a chance to talk before the masses descended on the UG about PTP merch, art work, the Computerbits PTP nodes page and the whole Austin<>Portland thing.

  • Sams bike project is damn interesting. The lessons learned just from the batteryfu is going to be interesting.
  • Keegan getting Nigel's wireless Sip phone working was inspiring and a bit freaky. Having a convo with someone in the same room on a sip phone calling to a cellphone over FWD is like trying to talk to a Shaolin Master in a chopsockey flick with a bad dub track. You see their lips move but don't hear the words for about 1 second or so. Voip and all that rocks, just don't do it with folks you can see speaking, unless your into that sort of thing and then its a great experience. "you killed my master, now we fight.."
  • Andrew Wood stepping up and laying the whole AUP / NoCat / Sip / Voip / Port/Emerging-Tech issue out and calling for our next weekly to be the day we focus our efforts starting to craft the actual solution was perhaps the momentum starter of the whole meeting. Having some one step up and move beyond the debate to get us to a place we are working on an actual solution is one of the keys to making the PTP more than just a group that flaps its gums with nothing to show for it. There are lots of folks who helped build up to this moment at to them Hats Off. Now onto the fun of doing.

  • Ewrt look dang interesting. Buy a 80$ Linksys WRT54g, slap in their customized firmware and you have a wireless/wired AP, router, NoCat splashing, other cool things sprouting box. A couple of issues were raised about the legality of distributing what they are, I would like to hear more of the pluses and minuses of it here. I'm interested enough to want to get a box and play around with it.

  • Less Networks gave a great presentation of how another group is unwiring a city. the city is Austin Texas, yes that very city Lonnie has been kvelling about. What they are doing is a lot like what the PTP is doing with a couple of key differences. The big one is they have a couple of moneymoney players and work with other city groups as a loose ffiliation. They require user names and passwords to log onto their nodes and they have a central server to handle that and other distribution issues. They also crafted a HotSpot-On-A-CD solution for setting up nodes, something that I have been interested in for a while now. In the last couple of months there have been a couple of HotSpot-On-A-CD solutions and I think it might be time to grab some PTP mind share and look into learning from whats out there and crafting our own flava.

  • Lots of talk was had between, after and ,yes, during ("one meeting at a time please") the meeting. Lots. Finding the time to act on all the ideas that went thru my cranium would be a full time sleep dep task..which don't get me wrong I am not shying from but we need more folks working on things. It was great talking to folks who are looking for new nodes in their hoods and to folks working on projects they want to bring into the PTP. Distributing the work load is key to what we want to be and the sheer amount of things that need doing to be it.
  • Mac, Brenda and the Crew of the UG are truly an asset to the PTP. The space, the atmosphere, the coffee...of all the places we meet up as a group the UG is hands down my fave.

There is tons more but I have just ran out of coffee. Id like to hear other folks impression of the meeting.

Specific to Lessnetworks and some talk that came out of the presentation

Jason's presentation and QandA where amazingly informative and a great thing to see. Lonnie's posts have been great in showing us how Less Networks does up its thing and his experience with it.

Here are some points I jotted down in the old noodle as I read the posts.

<disclaimer>..all of this is my own take on things, there are about three people who can do the "this is the official ptp stance" thing and make it stick, I am none of those people...none of this is defensive or offensive its musings pure and simple. Take it with a grain of salt, or a salt substitute if you have high blood pressure..</disclaimer>

There was talk of, "well why dont we just use what Less has and its all good and it solves for X Y and Z and we can use thier auth servers and.."

All groups have different takes on free wifi and all groups doing this are doing great work at spreading the idea around. The PTP has a different take on things since its inception in 2000 (2001?) and this does not make it worse than or better than any other group such that we need to "watch out for the new leader" or change what we do because there are other methods. Learn form and share with, but not shift to follow the moving target.

  • PTP offers Truly Free Wifi.. we dont ask you to join anything, we dont ask for your name only that you agree to an AUP which says, in short, if you do something illegal on the network its your bad not ours.
  • We are non invasive on the privacy of our users.
  • Our website allows folks to add content, edit content and read without asking for them to join anything or give us any information, again its truly free no membership required.
  • We have a real time chat area set up on a FREE, there is that word again, irc server that does not require you to join or gain membership.
  • We work with the local biz community we see as giving back to the community and able to in some way help along our goal of Truly Free Wifi. The PTP counts amongst its sponsors and node partners
    • The Portland business Alliance
    • Stumptown Roasters and Cafe
    • World Cup Coffee
    • EcoTrust

    • Powells Books
    • Cedar Hills Crossing Mall
    • Urban Grind
    • Hot Peeper Studios
    • Midnight Staffing
    • The Red and Black Cafe
    • a slew more very cool cafes and biz places that I could name but i

think I have made my point.

  • All of these names are key players in some aspect(s) of the community spirit that makes Portland vibrant. They are not the big name franchise stores or city agencies or the like, simply folks doing biz who want to make a differences in Portland.
  • Thru those nodes and by the works of home owner nodes we have uncovered not just biz places but
    • Pioneer Courthouse Square Area
    • PGE Park and Stadium Area
    • Couch Park
    • The South Park Blocks
    • The Hollywood Library
    • Irving Park
    • Arbor Lodge
    • Peoples neighborhood spaces (Belmont, Hawthorne, Alder, Laurelhurst, Kerns, etc)
  • The above points of who we are partnered with and the sponsors we have make we wonder just why there is a thought that we dont have an amazing group of folks making possible the nodes?

Now do we have a graphics heavy web page touting all this and requiring membership to use? Well no. If thats something folks want to do I would question if thats effort well spent but have at it if thats your thing.

  • Nocat is not rocket science, Debain is not rocket science. The Install Method Keegan is crafting will not only result in more folks knowing how to set up nodes it will EDUCATE (the PTP is big into that) folks on whats happening and how to teach it to others. Handing out a cd that does it all for you is great, I love the idea and have championed the making of such a thing for a while now. Since I started crying for that solution I have been educated on how to do it without such a thing, and believe me when I say if I can do it you can as well, such that while I still want a "Feed a man a fish" solution I also want folks to learn how to fish. In the long run it pays off in having folks around you who are skilled at the task at hand rather than looking to a disc of coated plastic to make it all better. I still think that time spent on making such a thing for the PTP is time well spent and looking at how other, Less included, is time well spent.
  • HOWEVER transparency of the process is a great teacher, hence our wiki, and I m not sure a closed beta process is something I am wanting to deal with. Either its open or its not, please dont make me go thru hoops to get the code so I can play with it.
  • A lot of what the PTP does is based in Education, not in just making AOL for wireless access. Its the path we have taken and looking at where we are and the skill sets we have because of it I think it would not be a great thing to stray too far from it.

A few personal twitches to note about Less Networks... pushing iTunes down on folks, something that is boths feeds into the RIAA and feeds from it is nothing I would ever want to see happen on the PTP nodes. Just my personal feelings but Id rather not support that sort of business practices . ...the whole membership thing for access sort of gets in the way of free wifi, maybe I can see it for stuff like SIP services in beta etc etc, but for just getting on the net , nope..

And lastly... everyone at the PTP is a volunteer. No pay, no money, no investment in some stock plan or future pay off other than a city full of free wifi. I think that makes a difference in how you look at things. If we were running this with an eye on paying employees or amazing market share to turn into cashmoney or eventually making any sort of money stream from the use of the net then I think maybe things like Membership, Accounts and playing to a biz model over the grassroots model would make sense. As things stands though the PTP is not, for now its all about just one thing Truly Free Community Wifi all over Portland.. everything else serves that.

The above is NOT a knock on making money, I make it you make it we all make it. My family can not eat philosophy or live in a house made of good intentions. But money changes things, making money from something changes it some more. Good or bad is left up to each person. For myself seeing the PTP as a grassroots non profit thing I do not for money but for the love of it changes how I look at it.

Ok this has gone on for longer than I planned:)- Lets shorten it down then..

What three words best describe your group? I think for the PTP its Community, Education, Networking. Id love to see each group think about what three words best describe their groups.

Anyway thanks to Jason and Lonnie for showing us the Lessnetworks stuff. I look forward to getting the iso and seeing what you got under the hood and how it differs from out PTPNode setups.

  • == eof ==

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