How a group of neighbors created their own Internet service | Ars Technica

When you live somewhere with slow and unreliable Internet access, it usually seems like there’s nothing to do but complain. And that’s exactly what residents of Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state, were doing in late 2013. Faced with CenturyLink service that was slow and outage-prone, residents gathered at a community potluck and lamented their current connectivity.

“Everyone was asking, ‘what can we do?’” resident Chris Brems recalls. “Then [Chris] Sutton stands up and says, ‘Well, we can do it ourselves.’”

Doe Bay is a rural environment. It’s a place where people judge others by “what you can do,” according to Brems. The area’s residents, many farmers or ranchers, are largely accustomed to doing things for themselves. Sutton’s idea struck a chord. “A bunch of us finally just got fed up with waiting for CenturyLink or anybody else to come to our rescue,” Sutton told Ars.Around that time, CenturyLink service went out for 10 days, a problem caused by a severed underwater fiber cable. Outages lasting a day or two were also common, Sutton said.Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their own network and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.

Source: How a group of neighbors created their own Internet service | Ars Technica

Are these SpaceX’s Starlink satellites?

Looks like I may have found the orbital elements (TLEs) of SpaceX’s Starlink Internet satellites. I noticed on SatView’s site that three objects entered orbit on 22 February, one of which was SpaceX’s PAZ satellite. PAZ was the primary payload on SpaceX’s most recent Falcon 9 flight and the Starlink birds were the secondaries.

Starlink orbits!

Following Satview’s links takes you to the real-time tracking of 43616U and 43617U (International Designators 2018-020A & 2018-020B), two satellites that are almost certainly Starlink’s TinTin A & B (or Microsat 2A & 2B). They show up in NORAD’s catalog as the bland descriptions of “Object B” and “Object C” and were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the same day as PAZ. From CelesTrak:

So now I know both what to look for and where and when to look for it. Now I need to acquire the gear to acquire the signals, which might be the biggest stumbling block of all. Well, aside from actually decoding any signals I happen to get.

Yes, folks, this actually is rocket science.

I now remember why I left DOS behind

This is harder to emulate than you think.

Because I apparently haven’t had enough technical challenges to solve, this weekend I decided to return to my little side project of getting my old DOS-based PCBoard BBS running in a virtual machine. For this project I’m using oVirt as the VM host and booting FreeDOS 1.2.

Needless to say, I’m running into some challenges. My first thought is: oh my God what a kludgy mess DOS is! It’s a half-assed solution on top of a half-assed solution on top of a half-assed solution. Device drivers up the wazoo. More than 640K memory? Gotta load EMM drivers. Want to use a CD? Load an ATAPI driver. Want USB? Hah, not available! Want networking? Find a packet driver for your specific network card and ensure you use the right interrupts. Oh, and you’ll still need to load a separate TCP/IP stack! With so many parts to the puzzle it’s a miracle anything ever worked at all!

It took me a little while but I finally did get my DOS VM networked via TCP/IP. Then when I loaded PCBoard it initially seemed to be looking for a (non-existent) modem. Subsequent runs had it complaining about “Cannot run as a child of BASIC” before exiting. I am assuming this is a problem with the way PCBoard was compiled using QuickBASIC and QuickBASIC (QB) might not be playing nicely with FreeDOS. I’ve seen others say QB works fine with FreeDOS but I don’t know if that applies to the compiled programs or not.

So, now I’m on to installing a DOS VM using MS-DOS 6.22. I can’t imagine QuickBASIC not liking MS-DOS.

The project continues. It may or may not be worth the trouble but at the very least it is a reminder of just how far we’ve come with operating systems!

I feel the need … the need for speed

Optimizing MarkTurner.Net

A few days ago I was playing with Pingdom’s Website speed test and shocked to find how long it was taking MT.Net to load for my legions of website visitors. There were several things slowing it down, earning my site a grade of a gentleman’s “C.”

After digging through some of Pingdom’s suggestions and carefully pruning my WordPress plugins and settings, I’ve managed to whittle down the load time from an average of over 3 seconds to just a hair over one second.

While there’s probably a little bit more performance I could squeeze out this is far better than it was. Enjoy!

‘Kernel memory leaking’ Intel processor design flaw forces Linux, Windows redesign • The Register

A massive security issue has been found in Intel’s processors that will very shortly have a huge performance impact on almost all computers. Details are sketchy at the moment but it’s not looking good.

Remember the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug? This is likely to eclipse Y2K. Why? Because patching broken software is trivial but patching broken hardware is all but impossible. We will feel the effects of this design flaw for years. Soon nearly all computers you interact with (including online services like Facebook, SalesForce, Netflix, etc) could be from five to thirty percent slower.

When I purchased a new Intel processor last year, I did so thinking it would give me a decade or more of service. Now it’s already obsolete. If any class-action lawsuits spring up over this I would be willing to join in. This is ridiculous.

A fundamental design flaw in Intel’s processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug.

Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel’s virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in an upcoming Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December.

Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we’re looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features – specifically, PCID – to reduce the performance hit.

Similar operating systems, such as Apple’s 64-bit macOS, will also need to be updated – the flaw is in the Intel x86 hardware, and it appears a microcode update can’t address it. It has to be fixed in software at the OS level, or buy a new processor without the design blunder.

Source: ‘Kernel memory leaking’ Intel processor design flaw forces Linux, Windows redesign • The Register

Bonus link: Some technical speculation on the bug from “pythonsweetness.”

Broken DHCP on the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite

The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite (ERL), an amazing little networking box.

Back in October I finally squeezed gigabit speeds out of my AT&T Fiber connection by switching from my old OpenWRT-based TP-Link Archer C7 routers to an Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite (ERL). The Archer hardware could not keep up with gigabit speeds but the ERL can.

I love the ERL! It’s only about $100 but it’s a very powerful device! Previous versions of the firmware were a bit cryptic (at least in the UI area) but the latest one provides a lot of functionality (and wizards).

I had followed one such wizard to do my initial setup with the ERL back in October, after upgrading it from version 1.9.1 of EdgeOS to EdgeOSv1.9.7+hotfix.4. All seemed to work … except for it properly pulling a DHCP address from AT&T. See, I have bypassed AT&T’s PACE router in favor of my own and the ERL now does everything but the initial 802.1x authentication that opens the port on AT&T’s switch.

Why do you need to use DHCP on your AT&T link? You can put a static IP on your end of the link but AT&T offers DHCP leases of 14 days and expects you to use them. If your box (i.e., my ERL) doesn’t renew its IP near the end of those 14 days, AT&T considers the link to be dead and shuts down the connection. At this point, the only way you’ll get it going again is to reconnect the AT&T router and let it do its 802.1x authentication again. This is a pain, so avoiding it is very useful.
Continue reading

Fence is structurally complete!

My fence: it’s critter-proof now!

I nailed on the last few pickets to our new fence yesterday. These took some time because they had to be custom-sawed to fit the odd gaps left when the full pickets didn’t line up. Rather than stop and cut individual boards during my previous fence work days, I chose instead to keep motoring so I got more surface area done. Thus, there were about ten or so odd-shaped pickets to create.

A few hours of measuring, cutting, and nailing on Sunday and I had the fence structurally complete. It is now critter-proof. I put in the last board as the sun was going down and then took out a section of our old fence so that we could enjoy our entire backyard for the first time ever. Hurray!

Now I need to go back and trim down the too-tall posts and 2x4s. I may even cap the posts to better weatherproof them. Then I will take down the old fence and either haul it to the dump or find neighbors who might want to scavenge it for spare pickets. I’ll also have to fill in the holes left by the old fence posts. Still a bit of work to be done but I’m getting there!