Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tracking Personal Bandwidth Use With Open-Mesh

As a part of my experiments with open-mesh routers, I've decided to retask some of my units for personal use at home. We were using an off-the-shelf wireless router for our home devices, which also has a public open-mesh router sharing Internet with my neighbors.

I have found that the stats provided are pretty insightful. The downside is that the stats are only for the public SSID. The private SSID use remains a mystery. So, I turned off the radio on the regular router and assigned a couple of mesh routers to run my home SSID on the public side with password protection.

Why would I want data on my home wireless use?

Mainly, I want to know how much bandwidth we are pulling from day to day when we watch Netflix, Youtube, or just browse the web. Having a rough idea of how much data a household of five uses on a day to day basis provides some knowledge about what a typical family might use.

Another use is to know how much bandwidth a typical home can spare on a daily basis. I know for a fact that most of us do not use the full bandwidth of our Internet connections all the time. Data usage spikes and falls rather than run at 100%

So, if my expectation is to set up hotspots around town, it's important to know how much bandwidth can be spared without noticeably affecting the use of the household that pays for the connection.

For a while, I had a neighbor to whom I would provide unthrottled access. It is obvious that one connection is not sufficient to meet the needs of two households. I still have an open access point; but, it's throttled down to prevent reducing my own quality of service.

But, I don't know how much I can safely share, which is where the retasked open-mesh routers come in. Now, I can easily gauge the margin of bandwidth I can safely share without being annoyed with buffering movies.

I've mentioned before that there is a big difference between hotspots in residential areas versus commercial areas. Residential users tend to use all available bandwidth on their laptop or desktop computers. I do see as mobile devices connect to my home hotspot.

Commercial hotspots, my data suggests, mainly draws mobile devices, which tend to have short-lived connections, pulling as much data as possible in a short time. So, by finding the sweet spot for excess bandwidth sharing, I can ensure that mobile devices can do their business in the least amount of time, saving users data use on their mobile plans and battery life.

In short, I just need information so I can make informed decisions on how to configure my hotspots.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seeing a Surge in Traffic to Blogger

I have another blog that has several years of archives, more than this one. The blog at most, would get about $100 per year in revenue from Google Ads. Lately, that blog has seen a surge in traffic. This is a little perplexing because I have not done much as far as blogging goes.

In the past few years, the other blog has been very low on my priorities; thus, I might update it less than 10 times per month. That's being generous.

Even so, the blog has seen an uptick in the amount of visitors and ad revenue all of the sudden. Looking at the stats, the traffic is mainly coming from search engine results, primarily Google. What pages? That's just it. Nothing consistent.

It is difficult for me to infer why the sudden surge without also knowing what ads are being displayed alongside the blog posts, which are likely different depending on the visitor.

Perhaps Google is giving preference to their own properties?

Perhaps launching a Google+ page for the blog was a good move?

Perhaps I have reached a critical point in which I have enough blog archives to turn up for most local results?

Perhaps it's a temporary anomaly that will disappear as mysteriously as it came? Who knows?

Of course, I'll be analyzing stats to find out what's going on.

AT&T Caps U-Verse at 150 GB

Your mobile AT&T data plan is not the only thing that is capped. AT&T also caps your home broadband connection at 150 GB. If you go over, you pay overage of $10 per additional 50 GB, which isn't too bad, I suppose.

I was looking for an option for my cable Internet connection today, even if it is a bit slower. I was a bit surprised to find that U-Verse can match my cable internet connection speed, and even surpass it a bit.

Fortunately, they don't throttle your connection speed, as far as I can tell. My household might go over 150 GB/month; I'm not certain. We use Netflix quite a bit; 5 GB per day seems like it might just cover our needs.

What I found interesting is that the 150 GB cap applies to whatever plan you choose, whether it be the low-end plan or the top notch plan. I think this is odd as a faster connection would most likely reach the limit sooner than a slower connection. I would have expected that along with a higher speed, additional data would be included.

I'll have to think about it. AT&T is only slightly less expensive than cable. I would have to check with my current Internet service provider to see if they have limits on downloaded data.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Aha Moment: Quick and Dirty Temporary Antenna Mast

I've been racking my brain on how to put together a temporary, non-penetrating antenna mast. I need to test WiFi coverage using a sector antenna on a flat rooftop using inexpensive materials. Tonight, I was inspired.

This idea uses EMT conduit. Two pieces are bent 90 degrees. A long piece also has one end bent to 90 degrees. They are to be held down with 120 degree separation using EMT straps screwed into a sheet of plywood. They will be connected together using cut allthread that penetrates all three pipes in two locations. The entire thing will be weighted with concrete blocks.

This design benefits in being made with readily available and inexpensive parts. In addition, the design allows me to use the top allthread as a pivot to make the mast a tilt-down design.

The biggest challenge will be drilling through the pipes. I'll need to find somebody with a drill press.

I am thinking about using at least 3/4 inch conduit. I'll need a pipe bender too.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Playing With Ubiquiti and Open Mesh WiFi Products

Last night, I set out on another expedition to test WiFi connectivity using an OM1P Open Mesh router and a Ubiquiti Nanostation LOCO M2. There were two main objectives. The first was to test alien node connectivity, where an Open Mesh router from one mesh network connects to a nearby mesh router from another network. The other objective was to test connectivity with the Nanostation from a distance of roughly 270 meters.

Alien Nodes

One thing I expected from mesh routers was that they would look for a link to the Internet, even if on a separate SSID, and use that if the home network is not available. I'd asked if this could be done, and got a negative; so, I considered the matter dead. It turns out that an Open Mesh router will connect to another Open Mesh router with an open network if within range, even though it has a different SSID.

In other words, if JoesWiFi cannot connect to the JoesWiFi gateway, it will jump to JudysWiFi and use that as a gateway. This is all provided that JudysWiFi also uses an Open Mesh router with open security.

To me, the ability to use alien nodes is a positive. This means that if you are building a community wireless network, neighbors can customize their settings locally; but, they can still participate in the public mesh. In this way, each network can choose a different splash page, if desired; but, neighbors can still mesh with the best available connections.

In any case, I meshed my router with a nearby gateway with a different SSID. Then, I used my mesh router to run a cable over to the Ubiquiti radio, serving as an access point.

Connecting With Uneven Gain

The second part of the experiment involved pointing the Ubiquiti radio to a park about 270 meters away. This is nothing exciting given the power of the Nanostation. However, the unit was about 4 feet off the ground and roughly aimed, hardly ideal. Even so, I was able to get 2 to 3 Mbps throughput. Again, this is hardly exciting as Nanostations can easily connect with another high gain unit over a handful of kilometers.

What makes the situation different is that I was using my Android Tablet at that distance, pulling the throughput mentioned. Obviously, a mobile device has much lower gain and power available to make the connection. To me this means that the Ubiquiti Nanostation did most of the heavy lifting in terms of sensitivity and power. Using just the mesh routers alone, the connection would have been spotty.

What's Next

Given that I am footing the bill on these experiments, my next move is to try the same link using two Nanostations, one on each end. The goal is to see how high a throughput is possible from the same distance of 270 meters. After that, I'll see how far I can stretch the link from a 20 foot height in an urban setting. I have to foot the bill on each permutation; this could take a while before I can make a city-wide network as I intend to do.

Just to give you a preview of my thinking, I think the mesh routers will work more or less OK; but, there is also a need to establish backhauls to the community network. My thinking is that backhauls can add some geographic diversity to the Internet sources.

Let's say that I have a mesh router hooked up to a wireless bridge to another neighborhood. If my neighborhood's broadband connection goes down, the link could pull traffic from a different neighborhood. The same link using mesh alone would involve too many hops and network overhead. The backhauls would serve to leapfrog distant gateways.

Another idea I have is to replace the dipole antennas on the mesh radios and replace them with Yagi antennas or some other high-gain replacements to establish distant links that serve as meshed backhauls without the need for bridges. This would preserve the mesh while reducing the number of extraneous connections.

I have some crazy ideas on interconnecting stuff. The only thing holding me back is lack of capital to carry them out. But, I have time and patience. I'll keep you posted on my findings.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Saving Money is Like Having a Baby

I was just thinking that saving money is like having a baby, in some respects. I don't know how far I can stretch the simile; bear with me. Tonight, I bought a money order to put money away in a brokerage account, specifically, ShareBuilder from ING Direct. It is not much; but, saving money is better than not saving. This got me to thinking about the similarities with having a baby.

There Is Never a "Right Time" to Do It

Early on, my wife and I thought about when to have children. When would be the "right time". As best as we figured, there really is not a right time. There are better times than others; but, considering it's a lifetime commitment, the good times and bad times average out. You could be on sound financial footing when you choose to have a child, only to struggle for a few years after losing your job or suffering some disaster.

The key is not to have a great starting point. Rather, one should strive to have a good average lifestyle during  your young one's childhood.

When it comes to finances, you can't really time the market. Every reputable broker will tell you about dollar cost averaging. You put away money during good times and bad. Buy and hold. And, so on.

As a side note, I'm trying to avoid using the word "investment" when it comes to setting money aside in the markets. An investment requires a pre-defined purchase cost, term, and sale price. Investors know how much money they will get out before they put their money in. Most of us put money in brokerage accounts and hope the markets rise; that's a savings account, with risk.

Back to the subject, by putting off the time when you have a child or start saving money, you are robbing yourself of time to spend with a new family member, or robbing yourself of capital gains.

It's About Discipline

Parenting and investing are both largely about discipline. In the first instance, you need discipline to allow yourself to put down what you are doing and pay attention to your child when he or she is trying to get your attention. There is a discipline required in maintaining your composure when they are having a meltdown late in the afternoon for having skipped nap time.

Saving money also requires a certain degree of discipline. You must be willing to set money aside through good times and not so good times. You must avoid the temptation to borrow against your savings when you want a big ticket item. You must not freak out when the market plummets and your portfolio value diminishes.

Everybody Does It Differently

One rule of life to remember is to never tell anybody how to raise their child; not unless you are itching for a fight. When it comes to finances, things are not that much different. Everybody has different goals and tolerance for risk. In addition, there are other considerations that are very particular to an individual.

It's generally a good practice to seek as much information as possible; but, ultimately, how you execute on that information is entirely up to you. You may succeed in some instances; you mail fail at others. The trick is to learn and learn to do it better.

Eye on the Prize

When it comes to finances, the ultimate goal is to have a nice amount of capital stashed away to be able to retire comfortably. For the inexperienced in finances, the goal is to have money now and enjoy it to the fullest, giving little thought to the future.

Parenting is somewhat the same. Many parents put way too much emphasis on spending their children in their youth that they do not think about the long-term. Eventually, children grow up; and, they must be worth something society values, not you. Your goal is to have a child that will be a great asset to the world. Spoilt children will likely become miserable adults that inflict their own misery upon the world. The goal with children ought to be to mold them into a net gain for society rather than a net minus.

We focus on the small child as a status symbol when in reality the grown child is far more impressive. Similarly, your portfolio's current value should not be your focus; rather the plan to turn your savings into something formidable in the future.

I had some other thoughts on how saving is like having children; but, their memory fails me at the moment. Suffice it to say that when it comes to saving or raising children, the earlier, more disciplined, and methodical you are, the greater the long-term gain. Timing is for chumps. Do it; and do it right. It pays off in the end.