Science Project

July 21st, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

This weekend was science project weekend around the ranch.

Some time early in the week my wireless access point gave up the

ghost. It was a


WAP11, for what that’s worth. It gave me just shy of two years of

decent service, and on Monday it died (in the form of blinking yellow

lights that weren’t supposed to be blinking) before really dying on

Tuesday (in the form of not a single lit light, blinking or

otherwise). Bummer.

Wireless connectivity isn’t mandatory to the good order of the

household, but it matters a little because it’s nice to be able to

work out in the living room now and then. Replacing the access point

won’t be in the cards for another week or so, so I fixed on a Dell

Inspiron laptop that’s been gathering dust in the closet since an

airplane trip smashed its screen about a year ago. It still works,

though, and can be run connected to a monitor or even headless as a

server (it was serving Shoutcast last summer for a while, as a matter

of fact). So I found the the Linux Wireless Access Point Howto and NoCatAuth and sat down with the laptop and some Red Hat 9 discs I had on hand to turn the laptop into a wireless access point that routes inbound wireless traffic from the wireless NIC to the interface connected to the LAN and serves DHCP

The main difference between the current setup and what I had with the WAP11 is a little finer control over the services permitted to run over the WLAN and a dedicated wireless network segment (as opposed to the WAP11’s full membership in my LAN, which isn’t such a hot idea). It’s also necessary to open a browser window and login before getting the connection.

Some things I noticed on this excursion:

  • My laptop’s wireless NIC (a Linksys) is based on the PrismII/Intersil chipset and it’s capable of entering master mode, which isn’t required to route WLAN traffic, but it helps. There are kernel modules available to do this, and a kind soul right here in Portland has built RPMs with everything built in.
  • Red Hat is chunky! The “server” install was 850MB, and that’s excluding a lot of development packages. Queue memories of my first Debian install, which had room left to spare on a 500MB hard drive. The main benefits Red Hat offered in this case were the precompiled kernel (with HostAP drivers, that is) and generally better hardware detection/configuration than Debian (for my purposes, which were to get the thing running quickly). Since the laptop has a 5GB drive, and since it will do nothing besides act as a WAP, size wasn’t much of a factor.
  • NoCatAuth is about as easy as it gets to install and run in its most basic (“Open”) mode. Setting up an authentication service is a more pesky affair, and I punted on that until I notice a reason to do more than make people click on a “I promise to be nice” button, which probably won’t happen in my neck of the woods: the nearest coffee shop is ten blocks away. Meantime, I added an entry to the local node database in case someone else can get use of it.
  • In case your skin is crawling at the thought of an open WAP operating near a loved one, NoCat allows for e-z firewalling of whatever ports you care to mention (or whatever ports you don’t mention), making the connection more secure than it was under the WAP11.

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