Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Monday, June 23, 2003

  A Wireless connection

A Wireless Connection



Aw, hell. Slashdot - a timesump I've sworn off reading - tells me that the Linux Router Project is no more.

The creator of LRP, Dave Cinege, has given up. What he said struck me close to my heart.



Greg Retkowski and I based our 1998 wireless router project on LRP. We pushed consumer wireless to 13.1 miles - unheard of at the time. Our remote mountain home in Redwood Estates, Ca - after 7 months of spare time effort and skull sweat - became an high powered internet retreat far above the Valley smog. As payback for the karmic debt we owed the world and the open source community - we published a wireless howto, and I published my diary on our attempts to get online. Our wireless howto got read by people throughout the world - and for multiple years Greg and I have fielded questions from as far away as Sri Lanka and conversed with some wonderful people.

Best of all, once we got the system stable we spent the next couple years telecommuting extensively - the hours others spent driving we turned into billable time - and I reaped two other benefits I'll get to shortly. If it hadn't been for the LRP project, we would never have been able to do that. So: Thank you number 1, Dave Cinege.

Now: aside from supporting the howto's readers - we never really did anything to support LRP directly. At least I didn't, maybe Greg did, I'll ask him when he gets back from sailing with Cherie.

Over the past 2 years the questions on our now sadly outdated howto have subsided - because commercial companies, like Hyperlink Technologies, have stepped in and have a booming business manufacturing all the parts we had to make by hand in early 1998. Here's all that Hyperlink had available then. Not only that but 802.11b itself, and it's successor 802.11g - have spanned the globe. Wireless access points seem to be in nearly every restaurant, every cafe, every airport, there's three of them on my street alone, they're even in nudist resorts, and barbershops. There's a plethora of new designs and standards, there's hundreds of millions of dollars being thrown into the wireless industry. What cost us over $3k and hundreds of hours of custom effort then - can be had for less than $1.5k now, with off the shelf gear, running at 5x the speed of DSL.

I look back on 1998 with a lot of satisfaction, because:

Greg and I wuz there first.

I'm not bitter that no VCs have called me recently to ask what I think about their latest weird wireless project, and that I don't get emails from Sri Lanka anymore. Actually, I'm delighted. I can do other things.

I didn't have my emotions tied up in birthing a Linux based wireless router and the wireless howto - I just needed a solution, then. Greg and I indulged our Linux expertise and learned a lot about embedded systems, and we paid back the karma with writing the experience up, or so I thought until today.

Dave, I agree with you: In the embedded Linux router market:

You wuz there first.

I'm no stranger to getting so wrapped up in a project that I confuse it with growing a child. I've done it multiple times before, and I'll probably do it multiple times again, until I actually get around to growing a child. It hurts to give up a project that isn't rewarding - but it's not a child - you CAN and SHOULD abandon it if it isn't working out, and fill up that empty space with something else.


Fast forward a little in time.

I met Jim Ready, President of MontaVista Software, at the big LinuxWorld show in 99. I still have his plain white business card in my rolodex. Back then MontaVista was a tiny company - and I was in the same "ectoplasm in all directions" mode I'm in now. I ranted and raved about the future of wireless 802.11b, settops and handheld linux computers. He listened politely but there was a disconnect - at the time MontaVista was doing a Compact PCI network implementation, and that was it. And I was coming from outer space - I was coming from 5 years in the future - I was coming from LRP - I was coming from mars.

Later on, I heard about this cool thing - the Kerbango Radio - on the internet - and I found out that MontaVista was doing the Linux OS on it! I got enthused...

I have no idea if Jim actually remembered that conversation at any but a subconcious level when I came there to interview in May, 2000 - but through the owner of my wireless downlink (hmmwv.net), I'd made a connection to a piano player at MontaVista, and via that - and the wireless router howto - and my other linux skills & charm - I got the job, and ended up doing 802.11b, settops, and handheld Linux computers. Very little of my previous job experience counted. Thanks number 2, Dave. I would never had made two of those connections without you. MV didn't use anything from LRP - except me.

Year before last, I had the honor of meeting Steve Wozniac in his mountain home. Damn few of my idols are alive - he's one of them. I'm not going to go into the number of things I respect the man for, he helped create the entire personal computer market, he did some amazing engineering... he came back from a head injury... he's done so many great things and nearly everywhere I've been in this field...

Woz wuz there first.

Let's just say, that as I approached the door, my knees shook, I was in danger of stepping on my tongue and... my linux based wireless computer beeped - I was online! there was high powered wireless there! Hey...

I wuz there first.

My shoulders straightened up, my chest expanded, I saw on his wall the famous "Love Hz" Kerbango poster - and I managed to get through a couple enjoyable hours of being a gui/wireless/crypto expert without stuttering much, or getting down on my knees and thanking him for all the things he'd done for me. He must get that awe reaction a lot - he handles it graciously. I spent a few moments in there deeply grateful to you, Dave, for doing LRP - so I could hack it to do wireless - so I could get to that day.


Now, someday all of us are going to be toothless old farts trapped in the old programmers village - and we can still say - we wuz there first.

Now, Dave, you may be very bitter.



Dave:

There's one really crucial difference between people and corporations. Although they have all the rights of people, few corporations say thanks, pay up when not asked, or recognise when they are strip mining fertile ground.

But people say thanks - and just as you publicly thanked your contributors to LRP - Phil Hands, Paul Russell, Charles Wright, Vesselin Atanasov and Paul Wouters - I'd like to say thanks - number 3 - not for your work - for your wierdly wireless connection to my life.

The experience of what you've done will stay with you forever - the people you've touched in your life will stay with you as well - money never does. Try not to be bitter about that.

Your work on LRP will rebound on you in some wonderful way, like it did on me. Maybe not today, maybe not this year, but it will. Count on it. If, as you embark on your next career, you're a bit nervous - and you notice out of the corner of your eye some sort of embedded Linux based routing gear running the company, remember: You wuz there first. And stand tall.

Sincerely,

mike
 
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