Friday, March 31, 2006

The bandwidth is coming, the bandwidth is coming ...

I've been following the broadband providers (on DSL Reports) and it looks like we're in for a bandwidth war, DSL vs. Cable. We've already heard about DSL at 15Mbps and we're hearing that Cable will follow up with 16Mbps. Wow, but will we have the home equipment to properly handle the speed? I don't know about most of you but my home network in not directly on my Internet connection. It sits behind a firewall router. At home I have a WRT54GS V4 with OpenWRT. I've been doing some quick tests and figured out that I won't be able to use the WRT because the built-in switch is limited to 10Mbps. I know it supports 10/100 but ~9.5M is all I could get through it. I thought maybe the WGT634U with OpenWRT might do better (it supports a Turbo wireless speed of 108 Mbps) but it looks like it's worse (~3500 Mbps). Right now I'm looking to see if I can find better tools for testing (the problem could be my testing or it's tools). At work I've got a device called a Smartbits tester. We use it to pound on the routers (and not just on the small routers, I mean things like Cisco 12000's and 7600's and Juniper equipment). I could use that (I'd have to do it on my own time) but I can't find anything to do it with a wireless interface. Right now it's on my (very long) list of things to do.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm looking for good inexpensive home networking equipment that can handle the speeds while not adding much latency to the traffic. I also want it to run Linux because the hardware vendors never add the features I need. Features such as a file system so I can put debugging tools on the device, a way to find out how much traffic I've been dealing with and the normal security and QoS & traffic shaping stuff.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Slashdot/Wal-Mart rant

When I was young, about 12, my mother had purchased a push broom for outside yard work. She had a choice between a $10 model and a $20 model. I didn't understand the difference until we got home and she had been using it for a week when it broke in two. I learned the lesson you get what you pay for. While sometimes buying the cheaper product does make sense other times it doesn't especially when you want it to last a while. Today, Slashdot had a story about The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart which is a review (?) of a book about Jim Wier, Simplicity CEO (Snapper) and how he said no to Wal-Mart. The basics come down to this (in my opinion) Wal-Mart uses it mighty size to push cheaper products on the public. While that's not bad they push the manufacturers to drop their prices any way they can and that means quality suffers. Sometimes it also means the profits are so low that the company can suffer! Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowes have a habit of selling some products that look like better quality products. Cheap rip-offs of the higher quality name with the higher quality name (but no quality) and that's where I have a problem with them. Jim Wier reasoned that by playing Wal-Marts game eventually it would hurt the company. I applaud this with my dollars. I've never purchased from Wal-Mart and I won't. I still seek out the local hardware store, lumber yard, plumbing supply and electrical outlet store. Unfortunately for me the electrical store recently closed down. Why? Because I get a better quality product. I get parts that fit. Parts I can buy next year when something near by needs to be repaired, replaced or upgraded. I'm willing to spend my money on higher quality products and not the garbage the the HD Expo sells either. What I see happening is that these super stores move in, sell the cheap stuff masquerading as the good stuff and the local suffer and community suffer. Why would you want to pay top dollar for the same product when you can get it much cheaper else where? If it were an apples to apples comparison I wouldn't. But it's not, it's more a slight of hand that will cost us in the long run. The only thing I can do is spend my money on the higher quality products and convince others to do the same.

And now something a little closer to the DIY (do it yourself) Home Automation I love. While poking around last night (3/29) I came across OpenOCD - Open On-Chip Debugger. If you programmed or debugged some of the modern micro-controllers you've run into the JTAG interface. It allows you to program and debug the running processor from a remote computer. It doesn't do it at full speed but it can be extremely useful for development work. Dominic Rath created the project as part of his thesis and it seems to support quite a bit such as USB to JTAG and the standard parallel port to JTAG (AKA Wiggler). Heck I don't see why it can't be extended to handle an Ethernet interface to JTAG. This is very cool! While I don't fault the JTAG manufacturers for the price of their products those products are really meant for professionals. But for those of us who do this as a hobby the price is out of our range. Trust me, if I were to do this professionally I'd be purchasing those expensive tools as they are a real time saver, which in the long run is a money saver. I've done it before and I'll do it again. Meanwhile this is my hobby and I have to spend accordingly.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Misc rants and raves

Well it's been an interesting week. I'm really worn thin by the stress of writing the Linux Smart Homes for Dummies book (oh, the discount is killing me ;-). The reality of writing a book (other than the hard work) finally hit me when I was searching for information on Google and came across it (ISBN number and all!). Really scary! Then I've been stuck on kernel compiling. The publisher (Wiley) wants me to be able to support a wide Linux audience (naturally). So I have to cover as many distributions as possible. But it seems that each distribution, distribution version and kernel version compiles the kernel a little differently. Trying to explain this has been difficult to say the least (heck just trying to figure it out was a royal pain in the butt). I can now sympathize with new users as this is not an easy subject to find or grasp and I've been using Linux since 1994 (0.92). Anyway this all leads up to the last few months where my main HA system has been crashing. At first I thought it was the software I was working with as I was messing with kernels and other internal Linux stuff. Then I thought a power strike was causing problems, then a dead motherboard. Now I suspect it's the 3 WD drives as they all do the same things depending which computer they're put in (and each computer isn't consistent with the previous as far as the problems go). While I had my doubts about the drive problem it was confirmed when I couldn't upgrade to FC5 (why not add more misery to the mix). All the computers could boot my Gentoo disk (it's only a 2G drive, hmm had plenty of room to spare too) but failed to work correctly with the WD drives. I now have a new disk, FC5 and the head ache of restoring everything. Not what I needed with a book deadline!

I found a good deal on a Netgear WGT634U wireless router (<$40 US). It runs Linux and I'm hoping it has more throughput than my WRT54G (only 10Mbps max). Though it has support for 108Mbps (pre-N? single antenna not MIMO) I only care about the Linux (very important), the wireless B & G support and hopefully greater than 10Mbps throughput. I'm in the process of 'opening it up' (gaining access to ssh). I will be putting OpenWRT on the box soon too. More to follow on this later and Sveasoft in a moment. Lastly I placed a bid for 2 Furbies on EBay and won. My intention is to hack them for Halloween. :-)

Oh, one more thing, the Netgear equipment has lot of products that use Linux and they have posted the Linux source. We all know Linksys has support for Linux but I wonder what we don't hear more about Netgear's support for Linux. I was a little surprised to find out the my little Linksys box could go no faster than 10Mbps (I'm getting spoiled by OC192's & 10Gbps at work). I'll veture a guess that the WGT643U can sustain better than 10Mbps. If my Broadband provider decides to give me another upgrade (15Mbps are the rumors) then I'll need better equipment. Also if the FIOS DSL arrives (again 15Mbps) I'll have another reason for better equipment. I'm just hoping that I won't have to break down and buy a Cisco router (maybe a 2851 ;-). Worse comes to worse I just break out my trusty 1GHz AMD mother board and pop in 2 10/100 NIC cards and a copy of Floppy Firewall (and a little bit of kernel/TCP/IP tuning).

And now it's time for my rant, Sveasoft! I purchased a WRT54G a while ago and I had heard good things about the Sveasoft software (at the time). Then I purchased a subscription to the software (Alchemy) and began using it. The development folks were really helpful but the guy who runs the company (James Ewing) liked to run his mouth. My impression of him is that he is a person "why should I give you my hard work", meanwhile he was using Linux kernel folks hard work to build his company. And the rest of the developers are helping him by fixing bugs. Sounds like Tom Sawyer and painting the fence. Where I end up paying to debug his code but get none of the money in return. Mind you I had no problem with the $20 as long as the GPL was abided by. As time went on I was less thrilled with Alchemy and now Talisman (the releases of software) as the source was being locked up for longer and longer periods. Also James has kept denigrating the Open Source community (I really didn't like that). Lastly the nice new feature of MAC address locking the binary was the last straw. So when it came time to renew I said no! I'm moving over to OpenWRT. Now I see that Sveasoft and OpenWRT are in the news (Slashdot rejected my article :-P ). OpenWRT has issued a 'Notice of License Termination' to the Sveasoft folks. I'm not sure if this has any teeth but a lot of folks have had it up to here (no higher up) with Sveasoft... Oh, BTW, if you're going to post a negative comment about Sveasoft and you have a Sveasoft account don't use the same ID as you do on the Sveasoft forums. James will remove your account (as in cancelled) and your post. He does not permit dissension on his forums. While that is his right, in my opinion, he does seem to take it too far.