Data network connectivity developments, networking business news, and related computing items.
Ken Novak's Weblog
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Embedded Linux marches on: "One of the cheapest Linux computers you can buy brand new (not at a garage sale) is the Linksys WRT54G, an 802.11g wireless access point and router that includes a four-port 10/100 Ethernet switch and can be bought for as little as $69.99 according to Froogle. That's a heck of a deal for a little box that performs all those functions, but a look inside is even more amazing. There you'll find a 200 MHz Intel processor and either 16 or 32 megs of DRAM and four or eight megs of flash RAM -- more computing power than I needed 10 years ago to run a local Internet Service Provider with several hundred customers. But since the operating system is Linux and since Linksys has respected the Linux GPL by publishing all the source code for anyone to download for free, the WRT54G is a lot more than just a wireless router. It is a disruptive technology. ..
it isn't what the WRT54G does that matters, but what it CAN do when reprogrammed with a different version of Linux with different capabilities. .. Linksys, now owned by Cisco, not only doesn't mind your hacking the box, they are including some of those hacks in their revised firmware...
Probably the most popular third-party firmware you can get for the WRT54G comes from Sveasoft .. [whose] head techie is James Ewing.. If you have a WRT54G, here's what you can use it for after less than an hour's work. You get all the original Linksys functions plus SSH, Wonder Shaper, L7 regexp iptables filtering, frottle, parprouted, the latest Busybox utilities, several custom modifications to DHCP and dnsmasq, a PPTP server, static DHCP address mapping, OSPF routing, external logging, as well as support for client, ad hoc, AP, and WDS wireless modes. .. The parts of this package I like best are Wonder Shaper and Frottle. Wonder Shaper is a traffic-shaping utility that does a very intelligent job of prioritizing packets to dramatically improve the usability of almost any broadband connection [by prioritizing voice and optionally a particular user's traffic. Frottle also prioritizes traffic.] .. Neither Wonder Shaper nor Frottle are the most elegant solutions, but they work well and they work together on the Sveasoft firmware. ..
The result is a box [that] automatically attaches itself to an OSPF mesh network that is self-configuring. In practical terms, this mesh network, which allows distant clients to reach edge nodes by hopping through other clients en route, is limited to a maximum of three hops as the WiFi radios switch madly back and forth between sending and repeating modes. If you need to go further, switch to higher-gain antennas or gang two WRT54Gs together. Either way, according to Ewing, his tests in Sweden indicate that if 16 percent of the nodes are edge nodes (wireless routers with DSL or cable modem Internet connections), they can provide comparable broadband service to the other 84 percent who aren't otherwise connected to the Net." Cringley then speculates on how to take on phone companies with this. 11:22:56 PM
Sunday, May 23, 2004
Watching Rats Abandon Ship
: Transcript of Bruce Sterling Lecture/Rant of the Moment in support of The Zenith Angle Book Tour. Crazy fun. "My situation is quite serious. It really is a conundrum. It's a security problem. It's a societal problem. It's a social, cultural, literary problem. It's a personal problem of my own. My credibility is at stake here. Although I've written a book about computer security which goes into agonizing detail of the intractability of some of these difficulties, I can't solve the problem within my own damn home. I have no solution. And who's got it?" 5:41:56 AM
Friday, May 21, 2004
Wi-Fi Provider Cometa Closes:
"Less than 18 months after it was created in a well-publicized bid to bring about nationwide wireless access in the United States, Wi-Fi wholesale network operator Cometa Networks has announced it is suspending operations, citing a lack of money." 9:59:34 PM
Thursday, May 20, 2004
WWW conference mulls Web as personal memory store
: "In a keynote speech to the conference, Microsoft's Rashid described what consumers might do with a terabyte of data storage that costs around $1,000 .. "You can store every conversation you have ever had, from the time you are born to the time you die," Rashid said. A person could have snap picture with a 180-degree fish-eye view of one's surroundings for every minute of every day for the rest of one's life. Microsoft researchers in the United Kingdom have built prototypes of such a life-recording device called SenseCam. They are gearing up for a second generation of photo capture systems no bigger than a necklace pendant, Rashid said
" 4:41:25 PM
Monday, May 17, 2004
SMTP SPF: Sender Policy Framework
: Considerable progress on this anti-spam protocol: software available for many MTAs; a wizard for generating new DNS records; supported so far by 14,000 domains. "SMTP has a security hole: any connecting client can assert any sender address. This flaw has been exploited by spammers to forge mail. The result: your mailbox fills up with bounces to messages that you didn't send. Close the hole, and we can easily block spammers by sender domain." 2:57:51 PM
IDrive - Online Storage Network Drive
: New service from iBackup. "IDrive maps your IBackup online storage account as a local drive on your computer allowing you to drag-n-drop, open, edit and save files in your online backup account as if they were on your local computer. Recommended for most users for its ease of installation and 128 bit SSL support.
IDrive Plus is another variation of Network Drive technology (available only for XP and 2000) with ability to support Concurrent Operations for Access, Act! and many other applications in addition to all the features of IDrive. IDrive Plus is the recommended Network Drive application if you have a need to directly edit large office files such as Access and Act!. It is more efficient as it sends only changes over the network, and reads only what is necessary for direct edits and saves. Unlike Network Drive solutions from competing services, IDrive Plus does not do background downloading of files first. It is a true Internet Network Drive technology." 11:57:31 AM
Sunday, May 16, 2004
802.11b wireless flaw identified: ""In order to exploit the vulnerability potential attackers only need a common wireless adaptor which retails for about US$35 and instead of using it to enable their computer to access a network, they can change its coding to interfere with transmission. "With this adaptor you can basically totally disrupt any wireless network that uses this technology within a kilometer of its operation in anywhere between five and eight seconds.".. [Professor] Looi said any computer, PDA or notebook could send out the signal if the wireless adaptor was programmed accordingly. ..
Wireless technology is gaining traction and in some countries is used to control infrastructures such as railway networks, energy transmission and other utilities. QUT's School of Software Engineering and Data Communications deputy head, associate professor Mark Looi said the discovery of the flaw should send a warning to high levels of government and industry worldwide. "Any organization that continues to use the standard wireless technology (IEEE 802.11b) to operate critical infrastructure could be considered negligent," Professor Looi said. "This wireless technology should not be used for any critical applications as the results could potentially be very serious."" 11:11:14 AM
: Nifty interactive international street mapper. 10:55:01 AM
: SIP VOIP for the Palm OS, turning any online Palm into a phone. 8:19:20 AM
Saturday, May 15, 2004
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Fly the Wi-Fi skies: On May 17, 2004, Lufthansa will become the first airline to offer in-flight Wi-Fi to passengers. "For the time being, only non-stop flights from Munich to L.A. will offer the service, but Lufthansa plans to roll it out to the entire fleet over the next year. The service will be provided by Boeing's wireless broadband service Connexion, which is being eyed by several U.S. airlines. Yet none of the cash-strapped U.S. airlines have ordered it, crying poor mouth. Lufthansa will charge $30 for access for the entire flight or $10 for 30 minutes. " 2:10:32 PM
Stretch Your Signal
: Options for extending wifi's range in a difficult or large house, including directional antennas and home wiring systems. 2:04:08 PM
How Akamai is like Google
"one other company that gets a lot of mileage out of a large number of computers [is] Akamai Technologies. Akamai's network operates on the same complexity scale as Google's. Although Akamai has only 14,000 machines, those servers are located in 2,500 different locations scattered around the globe. The servers are used by companies like CNN and Microsoft to deliver Web pages. Just as Google's servers are used by practically everyone on the Internet today, so are Akamai's." 2:02:29 PM
Phatbot arrest throws open trade in zombie PCs: "The arrest of the suspected author of the Phatbot Trojan could lead to valuable clues about the illicit trade in zombie PCs. .. This expanding network of infected, zombie PCs can be used either for spam distribution or as platforms for DDoS attacks, such as those that many online bookies have suffered in recent months. By using compromised machines - instead of open mail relays or unscrupulous hosts - spammers can bypass IP address blacklists. Phatbot was been used to spam, steal information or perform DDoS attacks..
Networks of compromised hosts (BotNets) are commonly traded between virus writers, spammers and middlemen over IRC networks. The price of these BotNets (DoSNets) was roughly $500 for 10,000 hosts last Summer when the MyDoom and Blaster first appeared on the scene. "I have no doubt it's doubled since then as hosts are cleaned and secured," Andrew Kirch, a security admin at the Abusive Hosts Blocking List told El Reg. By his reckoning, non-exclusive access to compromised PCs sells for about 10 cents a throw. "
More background from April 30 2004: "MessageLabs reckons two thirds of the spam it blocks originates from computers infected by viruses such as Sobig-F or Bagle. Spam volumes are growing. More than two thirds of the email passing through MessageLabs systems so far this month was spam compared to 53 per cent for March as a whole." 1:51:25 PM
Spam protocol changes:
Intro to Sender Policy Framework, email CallerID (from Microsoft), and DomainKeys (from Yahoo). 1:40:33 PM
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Spammer wins restraining order against Spamcop: "mass e-mailing firm OptInRealBig.com was successful in the first phase of his lawsuit against anti-spam group Spamcop: The organization for now is barred from sending complaints to ISPs other than its own as well as removing email addresses from such complaints. The temporary restraining order is critical for Richter's business and will be in effect until May 20. Spamcop's complaints often resulted in the cancellation of Richter's contracts with ISP's and limited his bandwidth and connectivity to send out his campaigns.
OptInRealBig.com claims that its emailings stays within the law and are sent out only to people in the US who sign up for the service. According to Richter, more than 100 million emails are sent every day from his servers which are all located the US. Representatives from Ironport, which operates Spamcop, will appear before the United States District Court .. Ironport as well as other email marketers were surprsied by the judge's decision. If upheld, it would be first case of a spammer barring an anti-spam group from reporting unwanted commercial emails. " 8:50:43 AM
Friday, May 07, 2004
India's secret army of online ad 'clickers':
"A growing number of housewives, college graduates, and even working professionals across metropolitan cities are rushing to click paid Internet ads to make $100 to $200 (up to Rs 9,000) per month. "It's boring, but it is extra money for a couple of hours of clicking weblinks every day," says a resident of Delhi's Patparganj, who has kept a $300-target for the summer
" 11:02:40 PM
How Secure Is Secure?
Simple description of 802.11 and other signal processing, and how more advanced signal processing like direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) can enhance security. In effect, the signal can disappear below the noise level, and only be detected by knowing where to look (which frequencies and time slots) in advance. 4:07:34 PM
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Lloyd's satellite constellations
: "These pages form an index to useful web information discussing [Low Earth Orbit or LEO] satellite constellations. You won't gain a complete picture of what any proposed constellation is capable of, or really in-depth technical details, but you will gain an idea of what the developments in this area are, where the industry and technology is headed - and you will pick up background knowledge of satellites along the way. " 3:27:37 PM
Monday, May 03, 2004
Smart Mobs: Phones, Radio, Elections in Ghana
: "Ethan Zuckerman of Geekcorps notes at etcon panel that the last Ghana election "went considerably more smoothly than the last US national election" due to the use of cellphones and radio to report voting fraud: Whenever someone at a polling place reported fraud, the called the radio station, which broadcast it; the police had to check it out, not having the excuse that they didn't receive a report." 2:11:10 PM
: "Pac-Manhattan is a large-scale urban game that utilizes the New York City grid to recreate the 1980's video game sensation Pac-Man. This analog version of Pac-man is being developed in NYU's Interactive Telecommunications graduate program, in order to explore what happens when games are removed from their "little world" of tabletops, televisions and computers and placed in the larger "real world" of street corners, and cities. A player dressed as Pac-man will run around the Washington square park area of Manhattan while attempting to collect all of the virtual "dots" that run the length of the streets. Four players dressed as the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde will attempt to catch Pac-man before all of the dots are collected. Using cell-phone contact, Wi-Fi internet connections, and custom software designed by the Pac-Manhattan team, Pac-man and the ghosts will be tracked from a central location and their progress will be broadcast over the internet for viewers from around the world. " 1:44:44 PM
"Inverse Surveillance" -- What We Should Do With All Those Phonecams: Steve Mann's ideas of citizen "sousveillance" predated the cameraphone phenomena by nearly a decade. [He has] reknown as the longtime online cyborg. He started wearing computers and sent his "eyetap" camera images to the Web way back in 1994. His first reference to his activities as a new kind of newsgathering date back to the day in 1995 when he followed a fire truck to a fire and sent the pictures from his head-mounted camera to the Web ..
In 2000, Mann and his students streamed images directly to the Web when violence broke out at a demonstration by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. If you think about it, this kind of journalism is a breakthrough in at least one dimension: whenever police abused their power in past political demonstrations, they made a point of breaking or confiscating cameras. Whether you are a violent demonstrator or an abusive police officer, it doesn't do a lot of good to disguise your misbehavior by trashing a camera if it has already sent images to the Whole Wide World. ..
"Surveillance" is French for "watching from above," but Mann's ["sousveillance"] is French for "watching from below." If you think about it, there really is little that citizens can do at this point to prevent others from watching, listening, and tracking us – but we are beginning to get the tools to watch the watchers. Mann notes that surveillance is about authorities watching from on high, but sousveillance is a down-to-earth human's eye view; surveillance cameras are usually automatic devices statically mounted on the ceiling, but sousveillance is human-situated and eye-level; activities are surveilled by authorities but sousveilled by participants; surveillance is secret but sousveillance is public."
Here's a practical application: People For the American Way Election Protection: "Volunteer poll monitors make EP an effective advocate for voters and a powerful deterrent to those who would try to deny voters their rights. Trained by attorneys and armed with cell phones that connect them with a lawyers hotline, EP volunteers distribute the 'Voters Bill of Rights at the polls and identify and solve problems as they happen -- not after Election Day has passed." They say they will use cameras in cell phones when possible. 1:12:15 PM
A Fine Mesh
: "public safety organizations such as police and fire departments have emerged as the primary early market for mesh wireless systems. These organizations need instant, secure mobile data connections, but today they are stuck with multiple incompatible legacy systems that don't even provide the necessary capacity. With homeland security a pressing concern throughout the US, public safety agencies are in a position spend money on emerging technologies that solve difficult problems. Corporate and residential deployments may take longer," 1:03:22 PM
The Triumph of Good Enough: Converged devices make headway: "Smaller form factors, better performance, lower prices, and miniaturization of components all play a role. My Treo 600 will never be as good a wireless email device as the single-function Blackberry, nor will it compare to an iPod as a music player. Yet, with a 512 megabyte SD expansion card for those MP3 files, it's quite serviceable for both functions. The same goes for its prowess as an organizer, camera, and Web browser. Moreover, because the Treo runs a real operating system with storage and downloading capabilities, it's more adaptable than the single-function devices will ever be. Shortly after buying the Treo, I added an application to read RSS syndication feeds from my favorite Weblogs, and an MP3 player than can pull in live streaming audio from the Web-based Shoutcast service. Try that on an iPod! My point isn't tied to the particular product. Sony Ericsson's P900, Nokia's Communicator line, Danger's HipTop, and PocketPC phones from vendors such as Samsung and Hitachi are also closing in on converged nirvana. "
And, personal radio too: "Using a Palm application called Pocket Tunes, I can now tap into Shoutcast streaming Internet radio stations from my Treo 600. There is something incredibly cool about this. It's a hideous hack, linking together a series of elements that were designed for other purposes: 12:55:34 PM
Radio Station --> MP3 files --> Shoutcast server --> Internet --> SprintPCS network -- > PalmOS application --> Treo
But that's what's so great about it. The end-to-end architecture and open standards of the Internet means that new applications can take advantage of existing networks and services.. Right now this is mostly an indulgence for early-adopters like myself, but why shouldn't every mobile phone also be a personal radio? "
Nigerian Mobs Alerted By Texting
: From Nov 2002 Howard Rheingold notes "the reported use of texting to summon rioters in Nigeria
Ironically, the blasphemous story published against the prophet has tended to unite the nation's muslims who have not only been unanimous in their condemnation of the story, but have also been sending solidarity text messages on their GSM phones to alert one another on the blasphemy since last Sunday.
AbdulHameed Daramola, a Lagos Muslim told Weekly Trust that he alone alerted over seventy Muslims across the country about the blasphemy through text messages on his GSM since last Sunday when he became aware of the issue"
Electoral Smart Mobs in Kenya
: "For the first time, we Kenyans have more or less agreed that this time we have had a fair election with the highest number of voters turning out to vote. One key instrument has been the mobile phone." Uses: Planning, Campaigning, and Results Dissemination.
"We in the ICT field know this is a best practice on how ICTs can help curb rigging, enhance transparency and keep people together. The two cell phone poviders were licensed less than five years ago and cover most of Kenya and have outstripped fixed lines government provider by more than 300% in that short period. Incidentally, no fixed lines were working in all the polling stations I visited further proving the maxim..Africa telecommunications development will be more wireless than fixed. " 12:45:22 PM
The Secret Source of Google's Power
: Fun read; their long-term comparative advantage may be scale: "Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It's running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It's looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application. While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming. .. What will they do next with the world's biggest computer and most advanced operating system? " More on Google architecture: a note
, a paper
, and a presentation
. 2:05:48 AM
Sunday, May 02, 2004
Google files for unusual $2.7 billion IPO
: "The amount of the $2.7 billion offering contains an inside joke for the math-minded. The exact offering, $2,718,281,828, is the product of "e" and $1 billion, where "e" is the base of the natural logarithm
--a logarithm especially useful in calculus--and equals about 2.718281828." And, e is an irrational number... 6:10:50 PM
The Wi-Fi Positioning System: " Quarterscope has developed a Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) that can complement or, in certain cases, replace the traditional Global Positioning System (GPS). .. [GPS fails if] you're indoors, or in a skyscraper-filled urban canyon.. But WPS uses the 5 million Wi-Fi hotspots that are scattered around the United States (which some esitmates say will grow to 10 million in the next 12 months) to pinpoint the location of any device that has a Wi-Fi chipset in it. As long as a Wi-Fi access point in range it’ll figure out where you are.
Several companies have developed indoor Wi-Fi location-based services (for museums and the like), but they are used in tightly controlled conditions. Quarterscope's WPS is the first outdoor [software-only] Wi-Fi location detection system.. WPS takes advantage of the fact that almost all access points are configured to transmit their unique IDs whenever a Wi-Fi client sends out a scan request. Quarterscope exploits this capability (which doesn't drain the resources or compromise the security of access points) by combining it with the data collected by wardrivers, who use GPS systems and laptops to discover and map out access points in towns and cities. .. Quarterscope says it can locate a device to within 20 feet, and that improvements in the coming months will allow for even better positioning. The company hopes to launch the product commercially later this year, and plans to charge a monthly subscription fee to use the service. It says it'll have 90% coverage throughout the top 25 cities in the US.
Because WPS is interoperable with any application that can use GPS, it can be put to use right away in applications such as Microsoft Streets and Trips and Delorme Street Atlas. Quarterscope is also working on several in-house applications. One, called, WhereIsIt, will give you directions to the nearest gas station, ATM, hotel or restaurant. Another application provides a more general local search for different kinds of businesses and attractions. It can also add a location stamp to digital photos and documents. One intriguing application for WPS is a "LoJack" for laptops. (Notebook theft is a big problem -- 1.6 million were stolen in the US in the last three years, and only three percent were recovered.) WPS could be used to quietly send e-mail with your laptop's coordinates to a special address. If the laptop is ever stolen, you can find out where it is and track it down. "
A related effort is Intel's Place Lab: "a software base and a community-building activity that facilitates widespread adoption of low-cost, easy-to-use user positioning for location-enhanced computing applciations." It's open source with a whitepaper on privacy. 9:54:17 AM