Google WiFi

Info on Google’s proposal to the City of Mountain View to put in a WiFi network is publically available (490K PDF).

There are some interesting things:

  • It will be using mesh technology. There will be about 400 mesh nodes, and 3 uplinks to the Internet (which Google says will use fiber, as though the media really matters).
  • The system will use a captive portal, requiring you to log in. The username and password will be a Google account (i.e. the same one as Gtalk, Gmail, customized homepage, etc.) The tinfoil-hat crowd will point out that this will allow Google to snoop all your packets and associate them will all of your e-mail and your chat logs.
  • The installs will be on city-owned light poles. Parts of Mountain View will not get service immediately because their light poles are owned by PGE and Google and the city have to negotiate with PGE more. Don’t hold your breath on this, folks. PGE’s probably got some powerline Internet thing it wants to do instead.
  • The equipment taps power to the light poles, and as such is unmetered. Google will pay $36 per pole per year for power. That’s $0.0041 per hour. If electricity costs the city 4 cents per kilowatt hour, that means the devices use 100 watts of power. Seems like a fair price.
  • There is no mention of solar power or battery backup, which means that this system will be useless for disaster response. Also, because the equipment taps the utility power for the lights, it will not be possible to use generator power to fix some portion of the mesh. Finally, if street light circuits were de-prioritized for repair by the power company during an emergency (as seems likely), the Google wifi mesh would come back slower than other networking technologies.
  • There is talk of running a VLAN over the network in the future for city services use. It is not going to be in 1.0. The security aspects of having city services data running over a wireless mesh would need to be thought about. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but it’s a sizable liability for Google to take on.
  • There are grainy, useless pictures of the proposed hardware. No surprise, it looks like commodity stuff. Google’s value-add will be in software.
  • There is no discussion of how the boxes will get installed. I suspect Google will contract that job out to someone with a fleet of boom trucks. Perhaps they will have Peek do it, who you see around town fixing traffic lights.

This project is significant for more than the normal “Telcos Battle Municipal Wifi” reason. This is going to be a real mesh network. Mesh networking is one of those urban legends among networking people. Everyone says that they are nifty, but no one has ever seen one work. Perhaps Google will nail this like they have so many other things.

On a related note, there’s a site called wifi.google.com. It redirects you to the Google personalized homepage. But by searching for all the links Google knows about to wifi.google.com I found more info. In particular, I found this FAQ about something called Google Secure Access (BETA). When you try to download it, you get a page saying they have turned off downloads. But you can still download it via one of the links the web search above turned up. After I installed it, I took a look at the about box. It says, “Tunc tua res agitur, Paries cum proximus ardet.” Which is Greek (well, ok, Latin) to me. (Someone on the net translated: “It is your problem when your neighbor’s wall is burning.”)

Now, Google says clearly that this won’t work for me on my home Internet connection. I need to go to one of their hotspots to see it working. But that doesn’t stop me from playing, does it?

When you tell it to connect, it tries to open a PPTP connection to 66.28.250.33. But who owns that IP address? The reverse DNS says “plsf2internet.putnamlovellnbf.com”. Is that a mistake? What the heck is Putnam Lovell NBF, an investment bank, doing running a PPTP server for Google to connect to?

Update: As of Jan 2007, vpn.google.com points at addresses in the NET-64-9-224-0-1 block, which is named GOOGLE-WIFI-MV. Hmm, no more Putnam Lovell NBF.

Later, after timing out or something, it popped up a normal Windows VPN signin box. I typed my Google username and password, and it started to try to connect to vpn.google.com. I did a name lookup, and got these back: 66.28.250.23, 66.28.250.25, 66.28.250.26, 66.28.250.27. Those are from the same IP address range, so they are also owned by Putnam Lovell NBF. Why is a Google DNS name pointing at addresses owned by someone else? (And why did no one else notice this but me? This story broke back in September, and 1000 people posted ways to make Mac and Linux PPTP implementations work with the same servers.)

My guess is this is Google’s answer to the criticism that them hosting a VPN server makes it possible for them to snoop all your data. They set up some kind of escrow agreement with Putnam Lovell so that they can provide this service, but have a trusted intermediary in the loop. But the interesting thing is that it cuts Google off from doing anything clever in their network to implement PPTP.

Google Local for Mobiles

If you have a phone that can download Java games, and you know how to make it go visit URL’s outside the walled garden your provider desperately wants to keep you locked inside, you can go to this URL: http://google.com/glm to get Google Local for Mobiles.

It will let you do everything that Google Maps can do on your phone. including satellite images! With my tiny screen, it’s probably mostly a geewhiz thing. With a hiptop it would be pretty neat, I bet.

One nifty thing is that as far as I recall, when I installed it on my phone, it didn’t need to ask me which phone I was using. The precise phone you are using is important, because it is written in Java (Write Once, Test Everywhere!). I suppose Java interpreters are no longer mutually incompatible such that a single Java program cannot run on all machines, as it was when I learned Java almost ten years ago. Presumably now you just have to add a bunch of stupid hacks to get around the way that carriers require you to sign your Java applet (so that they can try to make even more money off of you, instead of letting you download free games like you should be able to).

Anyway, I pointed my phone at my website and found that it is sending the user agent string MOT-V220ENS/0B.D2.2ER MIB/2.2.1 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.0 UP.Link/6.3.0.0.0, which explains how Google knew which precise version of the applet to send to me.

While we are, like, totally geeking out, here’s what else I found. The proxy that fetched the page on behalf of my phone is alpmagr1fe08-dmz.mycingular.net (66.102.186.17). A traceroute implies that it lives in Chicago. The second fetch I did came from alpmagr1fe05-dmz.mycingular.net. Some nslookups revealed that there are 15 of them, numbered 1 to 15.

Back at home

I got back home to Redwood City on Friday. The drive was uneventful. The puppy dog seemed a little sad to leave Roseburg, where Mom had made a comfortable home for Kat, and had spoiled her rotten. But after a bit, she got back in the swing of being a traveling dog, and settled down in her crate in the car. When we arrived at my house on Arch Street, I excitedly told Kat that we were home and showed her around. She seemed scared and uncomfortable… afterall, this was just another place I was dumping her and (in her eyes) threatening to leave her again. After I set up a comfortable little temporary pen for her in the garage, she settled down a bit. We took a nice walk around the neighborhood yesterday and she liked that a lot. Everyone who saw her stopped to say hi. Everyone loves a puppy!

I realized that with the addition of only two fences, I could turn the area behind Karl’s house into a dog run. I also figured out that the little alcove in my garage would make a great dog-zone, so I’ll build a shelf up above it and move the stuff in the alcove up onto the shelf. Then I’ll put a gate on the door to the alcove and Kat will have her own room! The alcove even has a window that is currently boarded up. Once I open up the window, she’ll have a room with a view!

I got most of the dog run done today, but I’ll need to finish it up tomorrow by connecting the second fence to the house and doing a bit of landscaping inside to make things more comfortable for Kat. I’ll hopefully make her room inside tomorrow too. If Mom can spoil her, so can I!

Yesterday I got my Technician Class ham radio license. I also passed the test for the General Class, but I still need to learn Morse code to finish that one. The next test session is in a couple weeks, so hopefully I’ll pass it and get it out of the way.

The plan for the next while is to finish up a report about my work for Radio Response, then apply to MSF. While I am waiting for an answer from MSF, I’ll do some contract work here in Silicon Valley to top off the old bank account.

My first nephew

I just arrived in Roseburg for a few days with family. We just drove down from Seattle, where the whole family was present for the first day of my newphew’s life on earth. Pretty neat seeing a baby less than one day old.

Here I am being cute with him. His name is Keiden William Bagley. He was 20 inches long and weighed 7 pounds 3 ounces.

baby

It was fun watching all the adults turn in blubbering idiots while holding Keiden. I was, of course, not immune to his effects.

Kat the Dog

Here’s a couple pictures of Kat, the dog I brought home from Mobile, AL. Her full name is Katrina, but she goes by Kat. She’s perhaps 10 weeks old now, meaning that she was born about the time of Hurricane Katrina. She was abandoned in a hotel room in Mobile. I encountered her while taking a rather random walk in Mobile with Angela. I decided she’d be good company on the drive to Oregon. (She = the dog, but as it turns out, Angela made good company too!) In Oregon, I expected to find her a home by writing an article for the hometown paper. On the drive across, I fell in love with Kat, so she’s found a home a little closer to home than I expected.

More pictures are in Kat’s page in my gallery.

kat

kat

kat

Today was Kat’s first trip to the veterinarian. She got a single shot with all her immunizations and a deworming serum by mouth. She’s also going to be eating children’s Bendryl for the next few days to try to break the cycle of itching and scratching. Finally, we’ll give her an anti-flea treatment in a few days, after giving her a bath with some soothing shampoo tonight.

Hello from Moab

I am on my way home across country. I’ve picked up a couple of traveling companions, Angela and Kat. Angela is a girl from Alaska with family in Oregon. Kat is a puppy. Yes, it’s a dog named Kat. (See below for more on Kat).

We left Saturday, going to Mobile AL to drop off Angela’s car. We spent the night in Rayville, LA with Sharon Dearman (wife of Mac, my boss at Radio Response). The next morning we drove to Dallas, and saw Cliff McCarthy there for a late lunch. After that we tried hard to get out of Texas in a day, but predictably failed: no one escapes Texas in a day. (But I’m happy to report, the puppy did choose to poop on Teaxs, which delighted me.)

My car was having trouble starting in the mornings. Angela recognized the symptoms (it’s good to have a girl around who owns an old Jeep) and convinced me to replace the starter. We headed up to Pueblo, CO to find a Subaru dealer with a starter on hand and got it fixed. We back tracked south a bit and picked up highway 160 across Colorado. Very pretty.

Today we are starting out from Moab. We camped last night outside of town. We’ll stop by Canyonlands National Park, which I didn’t have time for last time I was in Moab. Then we’ll head northwest to Salt Lake City, where Angela has a friend she wants to see.

Angela and I ran across Kat while taking a walk in Mobile, AL. She had been abandoned in a hotel room. We decided there was no reason we couldn’t give her a lift with us from Alabama to the Pacific Northwest. We figured she’d have a better chance of finding a good home outside the Katrina zone. We named her Katrina, so that something good and fun and cute would be associated with the name. Also, because it gets great looks from people when we call the dog by name!