Extending a wireless network with OpenWRT.

Jun 13 2020

One of my earliest covid-19 lockdown projects was doing a little work on my home wireless network.  I have a fairly nice wireless access point upstairs running OpenWRT, sitting behind the piece-of-shit DSL modem-slash-wireless access point our ISP makes us use.  All of our devices connect to that AP instead of the DSL modem.  Let's call it Upstairs.  However, the dodginess of the construction of our house being what it is (please don't ask), wireless coverage from upstairs isn't the greatest downstairs.  The fix for this, conveniently, is to set up another wireless access point downstairs and connect the two in such a way that wireless devices downstairs connect to the second access point (let's call this one Downstairs), which then transparently relays the users' traffic to the Upstairs AP, and then to the public Net (or one of the machines also hanging out on Upstairs).  This was a remarkably easy thing to do but it did take a little background research, which was daunting in and of itself so my goal here is to lay out a nitty-gritty, "Here's how you do this thing" process so you can do it yourself.  Also, in today's political climate, this process has the potential for filling in some essential gaps in emergencies.

First, some basic assumptions that you have to make for this to work: Your wireless access points have to be dual-band - they must be capable of supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networking simultaneously.  This means that they have two independent radios on board.  If they don't this won't work.  Seriously, don't try to get clever with this.  Any hackery you try to pull is going to be brittle, and you'll be inflecting upon yourself to kinetic pattern baldness needlessly.  Second, it is entirely possible to extend one SSID using this technique but you don't have to.  We have three related wireless networks here: Upstairs-2.4GHz, Upstairs-5GHz, and Downstairs-5GHz but you can do it differently if you want.  Third, unless you're already using OpenWRT for your wireless network, this probably won't work.

This is an advanced project so you might not want to tackle this on your own if you haven't been tinkering with OpenWRT for a while; this includes being comfortable with SSHing into your access point and installing software (including the web control panel).  I won't walk you through the installation process because OpenWRT already has good documentation for this.  Follow it first to bootstrap your second access point-slash-wireless network extender before you start this tutorial.  I'll also walk you through some of the gotchas I ran into to make life easier for everyone else.  We're going to assume that you're using OpenWRT's default 192.168.0.0/24 private network layout already but if you aren't adjust the instructions as required.  You do not have to be running the same version of OpenWRT on your access points.  I'm running v18.06.2 on Upstairs and v19.07.2 on Downstairs.

When I built this out at home I purchased a duplicate of the access point I already have.  You probably don't have to do this, but I did just to be sure I knew the make and model was solid.

For the record (and the same of my external memory) here are the instructions I used when I originally figured this out.

Getting a C64 online in 2020.

May 22 2020

As you might have seen in previous posts, my stuck-in-quarantine project has been restoring my C64 so I can play around with it.  Part of that involves figuring out what you can reasonably use such a venerable computer for in 2020.ev, besides playing old games.  Word processing and suchlike are a given, though I strongly doubt that I could get my Commodore playing nicely (or even poorly) with the laser printer in the other room.  Also, the relative scarcity of 5.25" floppy disks these days makes saving data somewhat problematic (though I've got a solution for that, which I'll touch on later).  Ultimately, the utility of a computer of any kind increases exponentially when it has a network connection of some kind due to how much data isn't kept on one's workstation these days but on remote servers, be they one room over or across the planet.  Plus, running applications on more powerful systems is thankfully still a thing, marketing making people forget all about that to the contrary.

Along with the other Commodore equipment I've been hauling around with me over the years is a Commodore 1670 modem that used to scream along at a spritely 1200 baud and a copy of Bob's Term Pro v1.9, gifted to me by a work associate of my mother's many years previously.  I also still have an acoustic coupler attachment that plugs into a modem's phone line jack which, at one time anyway, worked decently well for mobile communications in the days before wifi.  I don't have a landline anymore, just DSL and a mobile phone, so I decided to try an experiment.  A grand experiment, if you will, an attempt to get my C64 online and calling BBSes once more.

The overall state of telecommunications.

Dec 08 2019

I'm writing this article well before the year 2020.ev starts, mostly due to the fact that Twitter's search function is possibly the worst I've ever seen and this is probably my last chance to find the post in question to refer back to.

Late in November of 2019.ev a meme was going around birbsite, "Please quote this tweet with a thing that everyone in your field knows and nobody in your industry talks about because it would lead to general chaos."  Due to the fact that I was really busy at work at the time I didn't have a chance to chime in, but then an old friend of mine (and, through strange circumstances, co-worker for a time) told an absolute, unvarnished truth of the telecom industry: "Telecommunications as a whole, which also encompasses The Internet, is in a constant state of failure and just in time fixes and functionally all modern communication would collapse if about 50 people, most of which are furries, decided to turn their pager off for a day."

I don't know of any words in the English language to adequately express how true this statement is.  He's serious as the proverbial heart attack.  For a brief period of time, one solar year almost to the minute in fact, I worked for a telecommunications company in Virginia that no longer exists for reasons that are equal parts fucked up and illegal.  The company was bought out and dismantled roughly a year after I escaped by Zander's employer at the time, and seeing as how this was about fifteen years ago as you read this, I guess I can talk in public about it.

tl;dr - If you value your physical and mental health, don't work in telecom.