[NetBehaviour] Hive networks: meshing in the future.

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sat Feb 25 13:35:10 CET 2006


Hive networks: meshing in the future.

[This text has been written for Media Mutandis -
the Node.London Reader, edited by Maria Vishmidt
et al. The reader is available online and as a
Print on Demand publication:
http://publication.nodel.org/Publication. The
research about and writing of text has been
supported by media art laboratory Graz which also
runs http://theoriebild.ung.at/ (theory under
construction) where you can find more of my
writing in English and German.]


Meshing in the Future - The free configuration of
everything and everyone with Hive Networks
Text by: Armin Medosch, London/Vienna July - Dec
2005

Table of Content
1. Introduction    
2. From OpenEmbedded to HiveWares    
3. Hivewares: The Self-Managed People's Net    
4. Conclusions    
References    
Glossary    



[Note: Words or acronyms marked with an * are
explained in a glossary appended to this text.]

1.Introduction

One day in spring 2005 I popped over to my friend
Adam's. In his tiny living room, which also
serves as the headquarters for free2air
(www.free2air.org), I found another friend,
Alexei, hunched over a small technical device.
Its case had been removed and the circuitry of
the board and the chips could be seen. It had a
small hard drive strapped to the back of the main
board. Alexei and Adam were trying to make the
thing boot from the hard drive. They were so
focussed that I barely managed to get noticed
when I said hello. Slightly daunting technical
buzzwords such as 'cross compilation', and
'zeroconf' where flying through the room. Not all
of this meant something to me at the time but
what I could figure out was that they were on to
something special. This little thing on the table
represented the seed of an idea much larger than
its petite techno-crab like self.

Over the last two decades free/libre and open
source software (FLOSS)* has  provided accessible
means for people to write their own software,
encompassing creative, educational and
professional uses. In the meantime, IP
(Intellectual Property)* regulations have become
a battleground. While the proprietary monopolies
marshal an army of lawyers and policymakers to
fight their 'battle', the FLOSS communities have
responded by creating realities on the ground. In
a quite distinct manner, ever more areas of
computing have become 'free'. The FLOSS universe
is an expansionary one.

It has been very interesting to watch how the
free software and open source software
communities have creatively made their
'investment'. While some FLOSS projects are
supported by companies and universities, many
projects remain outside such institutional
context. There is no formal structure to decide
which projects are taken on. Many free software
projects exist only because developers make a
personal commitment to them. Thus, the investment
is a highly personal one. The communities have
nevertheless been able to make wise decisions
expanding on existing building blocks. First, the
tools to build tools were released from the
corporate lockers. Then, the PC was liberated by
being given a range of free operating systems. On
top of that the internet boom of the nineties has
been built, with most of the services and
applications such as email and web servers
powered by FLOSS. What is happening now is that
the same versatility of the universally
programmable machine is needed in smaller
devices, in those digital technologies which
pervade our environments anyway, from the car to
the mobile phone, palm computer or home
entertainment system. In industry terms this is
called ubiquitous or pervasive computing.

Salesmen-gurus like Nicolas Negroponte have been
telling us about the merits of 'being digital'
(Negroponte 1995) for two decades now, which
implies that computer chips need to be 'embedded'
in the environment. What usually usually gets
left out of the marketing is that the world of
embedded computing* is also the world of embedded
capitalism, where everything is done by large
corporations whose systems are by default more
secretive than the mafia. The chips which are
used in embedded systems are different from the
chips used in PCs. For developers to be able to
make use of those chips it was necessary to buy
very expensive licences or to engage in time
consuming and difficult reverse engineering. This
provided huge obstacles for 'free' developments
in this area. Assuming there was once a well
meaning vision by computer engineers of  
'augmenting' reality with smart devices, this
dream may long have been highjacked by corporate
ambitions to sell more hardware. At best  it
promised 'intelligent' homes where fridges and
toasters would all communicate with each other;
at worst clouds of smart dust* would conduct the
remote controlled warfare of the 21st century.
Technology, in those 'visions', is meant to strap
people into a regime of consumption and control.

Embedded Capitalism also means that those
developments are driven by an industrial logic of
higher volumes of cheaper goods sold at lower
margins. In the digital world this is often
euphemistically referred to as Moore's Law*. The
mundane economic aspect behind the spectacular
growth of processor speed and memory capacity is
the need of producing and selling chips in very
large numbers to make a profit, because the
initial investment costs are very high. This
logic has - maybe oddly enough - benefited the
FLOSS community by giving it cheaper toys to play
with. What is happening now is that embedded
computing gets 'liberated'. The name of the game
is to replace the firmware* of small devices -
from wireless routers to palms to practically
anything that beeps - with trimmed down Linux*
distributions*. Once the operating systems of
those devices have been replaced with free ones,
their functionality can be rewritten to perform
other types of services. Embedded computing
becomes transparent and may, eventually, reflect
the needs of ordinary people instead of
shareholders.

Enter the HIVE Networks (www.hivenetworks.net/)
project. Devised by Raylab (www.raylab.com) and
affiliates, I had witnessed the development of
this project in its very early days during that
first magic afternoon. Hive Networks was
initiated by Alexei Blinov, Vladimir Grafov and
Ciron Edwards of Raylab, supported by other
developers such as Bruce Simpson, Adam Burns and
a growing network of non-techie supporters such
as Ilze Black, James Stevens, myself and others.
Raylab brings a particular experience to the
project. Blinov and Grafov, both originally from
Russia, have been working as artist/engineers (or
engineer/artists) for many years now, often
technically supporting the work of artists such
as Eric Hobijn and Atau Tanaka. After his move to
London Blinov worked with the group Audiorom.  
Their interactive sound art works won the BAFTA
Interactive Award, and  Blinov's electronics
skills played no small part. More recently, with
Take2030, Blinov helped to create the Lunchboxes.
Those boxes, whose cases consist of typical
Japanese Bento boxes, contain a fully functional
miniature computer running Meshlinux as an
operating system. They are capable of connecting
to each other and other computers via WLAN* on
the fly by using the OSLR* (www.olsr.org/)
dynamic routing protocol. In many ways the
Take2030 lunchboxes have been an important step
towards Hive Networks.

Finding solutions for those art projects usually
involved a lot of tinkering and risky actions
with the soldering iron. Another important
background influence was the involvement with
London's nascent free network* movement which -
under the banner of Consume (http://consume.net) -
 in the early 2000s highlighted the possibility
that people can create their own networking
infrastructure by using WLAN technology of the
802.11 standard family and in the 2.4 GHz
spectrum (cf. Medosch 2004). In those early days,
old computers were often fitted with Linux, then
used and repurposed as wireless access points
(AP)* and routers*. But an old computer is still
an old computer, which implies that it has many
ways of breaking down. As Blinov pointed out in
conversation, with Hive Networks the days of the
soldering iron and of crappy old computers are
over.

For Raylab and affiliates the goal is now to work
with state of the art hardware which is produced
in industrial quantities and whose design follows
widely established industry standards. Usually
these devices use solid state computing, that
have no moving parts which could mechanically
break and fail. Liberating or repurposing such
devices signals nothing less than a paradigm
change in creative computing. This time it is not
the artists asking technicians for a creative
solution, it is the engineer/artists who are
proposing a framework for which artists and other
media practitioners are asked to come up with
project ideas. Hive Networks transcends the
boundaries between engineering and art. It is a
work of art as well as a platform for other
artists to create works. Most importantly, it
combines the element of content with the element
of networking.

Each Hive device is capable of gathering content
(through webcams, microphones, sensors) and
disseminating it (web server, audio/video live
streams, bluetooth*, WLAN). At the same time each
Hive device also acts as a node in the network,
which means that it is capable of storing and
forwarding data. The conjunction of those two
elements means that the perception of the network
as such changes. The network is no longer only a
connectivity structure through which access to
the global internet is facilitated, but it
becomes a content structure, a hiving network of
desires and cultural creations. An additional
motivation is the urgency to open up the world of
embedded computing and make it available to the
highest possible number of people. So much for
the concept, now to the realization.

2. From OpenEmbedded to HiveWares

FLOSS developers have found ways of replacing
company firmware with custom Linux firmware on a
number of devices now, specifically product
families by Linksys, Netgear, Asus and others.
The meta-tool Open Embedded and distributions
like OpenWrt make it easier to open those gadgets
and install applications customized to individual
needs. With Hivewares Raylab adds a particular
flavour to the orchestra of voices. What is now
only possible for serious geeks should become
part of everyone's lifeworld.

One of the first items to draw the attention of
the community was the Linksys WRT 54G, a
broadband router and wireless access point.
Harald Welte is a Linux kernel developer from
Berlin who is deeply involved with the
Iptables/Netfilter project which adds security
features. Welte had discovered that a number of
companies who sold WLAN equipment had based their
firmware on Linux. As Linux is protected by the
GPL*, the terms of this licence make it mandatory
to release the source code* of any software based
on it. Companies such as Linksys, Sitecom and
Fujitsu-Siemens who sold their Linux-based WLAN
devices had for one reason or another 'forgotten'
to make the source code accessible. The Free
Software Foundation (FSF), who is actually
safeguarding the GPL, had traditionally been
reluctant to take violators to court. But Welte
sought the help of lawyers and started  GPL-
violations.org, a project which sent legally
backed warning letters to GPL violators. Welte's
initiative succeeded also in court, in a landmark
case in Germany against the company Sitecom.
Subsequently it became clear that the GPL was
more than a well meaning declaration of intent
and that it really was a legally binding licence
agreement. Industry giants such as Fujitsu-
Siemens settled out of court  and complied with
their obligation to release the source code.
Linksys, confronted with similar allegations,
slowly and reluctantly released the source code
of the WRT 54G. This opened the floodgate for a
range of firmware hacking projects.

Replacing the firmware of a device such as the
WRT 54G with Linux-based firmware is of great
advantage. Not only does the way of working of
the device become transparent, it also unleashes
the full spectrum of its  capabilities. Usually
manufacturers restrict the functionality of
devices to what they think that consumers need.
And specifically in the low cost or 'consumer'
market there seems to be an assumption that
people would not want to or should not have the
ability to tinker. By replacing the firmware a
device which was meant to be a relatively stupid
AP only could become a web-server or a hub for
internet telephony (Voice over IP* or VOIP) - in
other words, anything that anyone might possibly
imagine it to become within the limits of
existing technological development.

The legal hacking of the WRT 54G brought  the
OpenWrt project (http://openwrt.org/) to life and
aimed at facilitating the making of custom
firmware. OpenWrt is a Linux distribution for a
range of wireless routers. It provides only a
minimal firmware - just what is necessary to boot
the device and provide its most basic
functionalities. Its key feature is that it
allows users to add and manage packages*. Users
can custom tune their AP, they can remove
unwanted packages and add packages they like.
Developers don't have to deal with the
intricacies of the hardware to create a whole
firmware of their own but can focus on developing
useful packages instead.

Highly skilled developers from the free network
community have put OpenWrt to good use. For most
ordinary humans OpenWrt is still quite a scary
bit of software which can only be controlled via
the command line interface. Sven Ola Tuecke from
the c-base and Freifunk (www.freifunk.de)
community in Berlin has put together the Freifunk
Firmware. It is based on OpenWrt but offers a web-
like interface for customization and
administration so that less skilled users can
also make a proper free network node. Elektra,
another Berlin based network wizard, has worked
on improvements of OLSR and its inclusion in the
Freifunk Firmware. Now dozens of nodes and hubs
on the roofs of Berlin create an elegant mesh
network which largely maintains itself and
shovels around bits and bytes outside the
networks of corporate greed and state
surveillance.

Naturally, the WRT 54G did not stay the only
liberated hardware device. Under the banner of
OpenEmbedded (http://oe.handhelds.org/) there is
a development under way to make it easier to
"bake" custom Linux kernels for potentially a
very large number of devices. A hairy issue on
any PC under Linux is the compilation of source
code to make it work with a specific hardware.
With embedded devices the added difficulty is
that the source code needs to be compiled on
another platform first and then installed on the
device. This is called cross-compilation and is
one of the most difficult areas in contemporary
computing. OpenEmbedded has created a tool named
BitBake to make cross-compilation work. The
project is in its early stages and follows an
almost utopian meta-level strategy, but some
branches already show signs of success. Out of
the original OpenEmbedded effort came the
OpenSlug (www.nslu2
linux.org/wiki/OpenSlug/HomePage) development
which tries to make a truly open source custom
kernel (kernel 2.6) for the NSLU2 (Netgear
Network Storage Link Usb 2). The NSLU2 is
particularly interesting because it works with an
external HD and it can be made to run on
batteries. You can have a web-server on a
wireless battery driven device. People could make
mesh mobile networks and do VOIP - internet
telephony - completely for free on their own
community network.  

3. Hivewares: The Self-Managed People's Net

Blinov and Grafov watched those developments
carefully and decided to work with another
product family, the WL series by Asus. Custom
firmware development for those devices is
supported by a lively community called the WL500g
Forum (http://wl500g.info/) which basically
thrives around "Oleg's firmware".

Oleg is a Russian guy who rewrote Asus firmware
for the WL-series of products (WL500g, WL300G, WL-
HDD) and added lots of useful stuff to it,
including the possibility to use the root
filesystem from an external drive (either USB
flash or IDE, in case of WL-HDD). (Grafov 2005)

Blinov and Grafov have put Oleg's Firmware on the
WL-HDD2.5. This little box which I had seen first
during that magic afternoon is now available for
around 50GBP. Like the WRT 54G it supports both
WLAN  and ethernet connections on top of which it
also offers an IDE connection and USB 1.1. Both
IDE  and USB allow the connection of an external
HD which is crucial for expanding the capacity
and adding features. Raylab spent quite a few
afternoons making the WL-HDD boot from an
external drive and adding a few other essential
functions.

What we did is that we used his [Oleg's] firmware
with its built-in possibility of adding packages
as basis and added some features that make it
possible to run Hivewares. Hivewares are self-
contained "product personalities" that make sense
to a non-geek person. Without Hivewares, a non-
techie could probably still get the same
functionality from his/her box, but only after a
lot of painful seeking through many different
sources of information and forum postings.
(Grafov 2005)

After an initial project presentation at the
media art lab in Graz, at WSFII prepconf 05
Raylab were able to show such Hivewares in
action, by presenting a WL HDD and a number of
different pre-packaged configurations on Compact
Flash drives. By replacing the Compact Flash card
the primary function of the device is changed, it
could either be a web server or a web cam, a net
radio player/receiver or a wireless media
jukebox. They have also been conducting
experiments with the WL 500Gx which is very
similar to WL-HDD but even better equipped with
plugs connecting it to the outside world. With
Hiveware the little Asus boxes become freely
configurable devices. A number of Hivewares are
already downloadable from the Wiki.

The Hiveware developers put particular attention
to a concept known as Zeroconf, called Bonjour in
the Apple world.

Addition of Bonjour and linking of Hivewares
personality to service advertisement supported by
it, made it possible to have hassle-free
discovery of Hive devices in the neighbourhood of
supported clients (Windows and Mac running
Zeroconf client software). (Grafov 2005)

By including Zeroconf/Howl, Raylab hope to
overcome the carrier/content dichotomy. The
network becomes more than just a carrier medium,
it also identifies and advertises 'services' in
the vicinity or network-neighbourhood of a node.
People are no longer getting access to an
anonymous world wide web but connect to content
and services which reflect their (local)
interests. Last not least Raylab are
experimenting with further interfaces such as
bluetooth, FM radio and a break-out box, which
has analogue-digital switches, so that sensors,
for instance,  can be connected to a box.
Participants in the Hive Network could
potentially have their own meteorological
environmental station.

In summary, what Raylab have been trying to do is
to make the process they were going through last
year over a period of several months as hassle-
free as possible for other users. Alexei Blinov
wants to make "information processing truly
accessible without usurping human space." "Just
like bees and ants and other social insects,"
Blinov says, "those devices are living in
symbiosis with people rather than presenting
problems that demand a lot of dedication to find
solutions." (Blinov 2005)

Ideally they would like to offer the
customization of devices on a web platform. Users
first need to buy the hardware, a common device
available through many stores such as the WL-HDD.
Then they come to the web-site, where they can
choose how to configure their Hive device by
clicking radio buttons on a web form. Once
finished with this, a specific version of the
software is compiled. Users download the compiled
software and install it and are ready to fire up
their Hive device and join the network. For
accomplished Linux users this is already
possible.

In the interests of minimising the obstacles for
users at every level of expertise, Bruce Simpson,
BSD developer and friend of Raylab, has
experimented with OpenEmbedded and BitBaking. As
OpenEmbedded is still in an experimental stage,
there is some way to go. Currently it is only
advisable for people with some knowledge of
Linux/Unix to get hands-on involved. For those a
Hiveware compilation is envisioned which consists
of a Linux image with a built-in packaging system
(ipkg), Zeroconf (Rendevouz/Bonjour) service
advertisement and discovery protocol, the
standard Linux command line toolkit (Busybox) and
a PHP-based web interface. Thus, more
accomplished users who know some PHP and
Javascript are able of developing application
interfaces without having to go into hardware
hacking. As an example, Blinov recently strung
together a nice interface which turns a WL-HDD
into a net radio receiver, but any sort of other
web application development is possible.  

Because, after all, the chipsets inside the WL-
HDD are not that powerful, what Raylab have in
mind is that each device can do one thing very
well, but one only. So for instance a WL-HDD can
be turned either into a video streaming server,
or an Internet radio tuner, or a music jukebox
and Internet radio tuner in one, or an audio
streaming server which converts audio input
(line/mic in) to a live-stream on the net. It can
not perform all those tasks at the same time but
it can do it each at a time. Because the
individual devices are quite cheap, large numbers
could be spread out over the cityscape to work
together. What makes the Hive really buzz  is not
just the price but also the added network
capacity. Raylab intend to make each device
capable of joining ad-hoc networks*. Each device
creates a wireless cloud of potential network
connectivity around itself and seeks to link up
automatically with other devices. The point is to
make this really work  automatically. If
successful, a sort of Trojan Horse strategy could
be played out. If a technophobe - an aged parent,
for instance - can be persuaded to use a Hive
device, which is as easy to use as a radio
receiver or CD player, it will also potentially
become part of a free network. If adoption of
such devices is widespread, local free networks
can connect together and large scale community
owned wireless free networks finally become
reality. What remains to be resolved is how
exactly this is going to be made to work with
Hivewares. As mentioned above, free network
developers in Berlin and elsewhere have
experimented very actively with ad-hoc mesh
networking* protocols such as OLSR. Those have
been tried and tested now with 90 clients and
more forming a mobile mesh network. It looks like
Raylab is aiming at something similar and will
include OLSR into its Hivewares. But the
scalability of mesh networking up to areas of
1000 nodes and more remains to be proven.

There is a host of other potential points of
criticism, and not just technical ones. The
development of the free network community has
shown that those projects make only slow progress
in areas which are covered by affordable ADSL
broadband offers from commercial Internet Service
Providers (ISPs). The finer points of the
political difference between commercial centrally
controlled networks and community networks just
do not seem to matter for the majority of people.
The thrill of becoming a content provider on the
community network is felt most strongly by the
younger and more net savvy ones. The free network
community has also focussed so far mainly on
making the networks work and cared little for the
content. There remains a pronounced gender gap in
the demography of such groups. Those issues are
known to be difficult to overcome. Even if Hive
developers solve all the technical problems we
will have to wait and see if Hive devices will be
adopted by large numbers and a diverse range of
people.

 4. Conclusions
There remains the potential criticism that Hive
devices add only to the flood of digital gadgets
which already threaten to become an environmental
hazard, as SF author Bruce Sterling pointed out
at his Siggraph key note speech in 2004. This
could be countered by the claim that Hive devices
will be the last gadget that anyone will ever
need because one and the same piece of hardware
can serve different purposes. Ideally, new
functions can easily be downloaded and installed
with a one-click process. But isn't this the same
sort of techno-utopianism which is a generic part
of the marketing blurb of the ICT industry? Is
there really a connection between the intrinsic
properties of this or that technology and
desirable forms of social change? Those are big
questions which cannot be answered within the
limits of this text. They are also real questions
in that sense that they do not offer themselves
to be answered by simple or reductive statements.
However, it is significant that the Hive Networks
project poses those questions in a new and
intriguing way. Hive Networks may well fail as a
techno-utopian project if it formulates its
objectives on a generic and universal level. It
has a much better chance to make any impact if
the technological development gets embedded into
the community and gets driven by the situated
knowledge of people to whose needs the project
responds.

In ubiquitous computing it is usually the devices
which get smarter and the people who remain
stupid. So far the concept of 'pervasive'
computing sounds like a threat to ordinary
people: another layer of technology which remains
unseen, little understood but potentially
influences and controls the life of many. By
merging the concepts of FLOSS, DIY and embedded
computing, Raylab threaten to turn that trend
around.

There can be no real conclusions with regard of
Hive Networks at this point. The project has made
some achievements but is still in its early
stages. After initial good responses from
different sides - artists, developers,
institutions - it appears that the developer
community needs to grow to take it to the next
level. It would be good to see some exemplary
projects get off the ground to illustrate the
concept. To this end, Hive developers are about
to launch a number of collaborations with artists
and media art institutions in Britain and abroad.
The public needs to see what happens if swarms of
Hive devices are set free. Otherwise the concept
remains too abstract for most people.
 
Acknowledgements: This text benefited
substantially from comments by Alexei Blinov,
Vladimir Grafov, Adam Burns and Elektra.

----------------------

References

Blinov, Alexei, 2005. Interview with Armin
Medosch. Private notes.

Grafov, Vladimir, 2005. Email conversation with
Armin Medosch. Private Notes.

Medosch, Armin, 2004. Society in ad-hoc mode. In:
ECONOMISING CULTURE: ON 'THE (DIGITAL) CULTURE
INDUSTRY'. eds. Cox et al. Plymouth and New York:
Autonomedia (DATA browser 01). Available online
from: www.ejhae.elia-artschools.org/Issue2/2a-
medosch.htm   (last accessed January 2006)

Negroponte, Nicholas, 1995. Being Digital. New
York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Sterling, Bruce, 2004. When Blobjects Rule the
Earth [online]. Conference Speech, Siggraph,
August 2004 Available from:
www.boingboing.net/images/blobjects.htm  (last
accessed January 2006)
 
-------------------

Glossary

Access point (AP) - a device which allows a WLAN
client - for instance a notebook with a WLAN
interface card - to connect to the AP and the
internet. Such a set-up is also called a hotspot.

Ad-hoc network - a network which uses mesh
network technology (see mesh networks). WLAN
technology uses also a so called ad-hoc mode,
which is a specific way of configuring an AP or
wireless network card.  

Black box - a device whose inner working stays
hidden to the user.

Bluetooth  - is a network technology which works
at very close range.

Boot - a process by which a computer is
'bootstrapping' itself, starting up the system
and checking its main system devices.

BSD - Berkeley System Distribution, first
released in 1977 by Bill Joy. At Berkeley
University and other campuses students and post-
graduates worked on improvements of the AT&T
operating system Unix. Most significant
contributions were the inclusion of the Internet
Protocols (IP) in Unix and the BSD licence.
Besides Linux, BSD is another stream of how a
version of Unix became 'free'. Since the closure
of the research group at Berkeley, University of
California, BSD lives on through the three follow-
up projects NetBSD, FreeBSD and OpenBSD.
 
Embedded computing - describes a type of device
where hardware and software form a very close
unity. It is used primarily in large industrial
systems such as traffic systems or power plants,
but also in consumer communication devices which
present themselves as a black box.

Firmware - is the software which comes pre-
installed with consumer devices; it contains a
software which is specifically written for the
type of hardware it runs on.

FLOSS - stands for Free Libre Open Source
Software. The inclusion of 'Libre' signals that
the word free is used as in 'freedom' and not as
in gratis.

Free Network - a computer network which is
neither owned by the state nor by a commercial
company but by the people who create, maintain
and use it.

GNU - stands for GNU is not Unix, the sort of
joke programmers like to make who are used to
recursive structures. The GNU tools and libraries
have been developed by Richard Stallman and the
Free Software Foundation (FSF) since the early
1980s. GNU made possible the development of
Linux. The licence which protects GNU software,
the GNU General Public Licence, has since been
widely adopted and is the pillar of FLOSS
development.

GPL - General Public Licence. The 'free' in free
software is safeguarded by a specific software
licence, the General Public Licence (GPL) which
is maintained by the Free Software Foundation
(cf. FSF 2006). The legal and normative basis of
FLOSS are enshrined as four freedoms in the GPL.
These are: freedom to use a work, freedom to
change it, freedom to distribute exact copies of
it and freedom to distribute adapted copies.
These freedoms are made practicable through the
obligation to provide the necessary resources -
for software, this is the human-readable source
code.

IP as in Internet Protocol - short form for a
family of internet protocols at the core of which
is TCP/IP, the protocols on the network layer
which facilitate the receiving and sending of
'packets' of information. Other internet
protocols are for instance  SMTP (for email) and
HTTP (for web). The technical details of IPs are
documented in Requests For Comments (RFCs) which
are stored publicly on the net (www.rfc-
editor.org/).

IP as in Intellectual Property - is corporate
language to describe intangible goods. The term
is controversial because it implies that all
fruits of intellectual and creative labour are
commodities.

LAN - Local Area Network, a cluster of computers
connected locally. One of the most widely used
LAN technologies is Ethernet, invented by Bob
Metcalfe.

LINUX - is an operating system which is very
similar to Unix. It has been created by Linus
Torvalds using the GNU libraries and tools which
is why some insist it always should be called
GNU/Linux.

Linux distribution -  a specific version of the
basic Linux operating system plus additional
packages. Distributions are compiled for a number
of reasons and often to make particular tasks
easier or to make Linux run on specific hardware.

Meshlinux -  is a variation of the free operating
system GNU/Linux which supports mesh networking.

Mesh networks  - are highly distributed networks
which use special routing technology. In standard
routing technology as used to send and receive
information via the internet the 'routes' which
data packets take are fixed. In mesh networks the
software decides 'dynamically' or 'ad-hoc' which
route data packets take. Sometimes 'mesh
networking' and 'ad-hoc networking' are used as
synonyms.  In wireless and mobile networks mesh
networking has the obvious advantage that the
software adapts dynamically to changes in the
structure or 'topology' of the network. There are
a number of routing protocols which support mesh
networking amongst which OLSR is one of the most
advanced and most widely used ones.

Moore's Law -  a prediction by a former IBM
director that the speed of computer chips of the
same price would double every 18 months. There is
no 'law' behind this formula in any scientific
sense but so far the prediction has held or been
surpassed.

Node - a computer which is fully integrated in
two way communication on the internet and is not
just an end-point or 'leave'. In free network
terminology a node usually combines the
functionality of a router and an AP.

OLSR - Optimized Link State Protocol, a routing
protocol for mobile mesh networks.

Packages - are programmes in Linux-speak, for
instance services or applications.

Packet - to send and receive information on the
internet, it is split up in so called packets,
whereby a single packet is also called a frame.

RFC - Requests For Comments (RFCs), a set of
technical and organisational notes on the
Internet Protocols stored publicly on the net
(www.rfc-editor.org/).

Router - a computer which transfers packets of
data between networks (routing). The decision
where to send packets is based on entries in
routing tables which reflect knowledge of the
structure of the networks involved. In mesh
networks the routing tables are not fixed but
updated frequently by an automatic process.

PHP - scripting language which is widely used for
interactive web applications.

Radio buttons - buttons on a web form which can
be clicked either on or off.

Router - a computer on the net which send and
receives packets of data on the net.

Smart dust - is an experimental technology
developed by contractors of the Pentagon where
very small devices gather information and
communicate.

Source Code - is the human readable form of
computer code rather than just the machine-
readable binaries, consisting of nothing than one
and zeros. Source code needs to be compiled in
order to run on a machine. Vendors of proprietary
software do not give out the source code so that
the functions of a programme can neither be
checked nor changed.

Trojan Horse - appropriation of the ancient Greek
saga to the computer world; usually means a
software which hides its true purpose and is
installed by users without knowing. Sometimes
used for malicious reasons such as spreading
computer viruses or forwarding personal
information through a 'back door' in a computer.

WLAN - is the acronym for Wireless Local Area
Network and is called WiFi in marketing language.
It is based on a family of standards by the IEEE
which all start with the numbers 802.11 (a, b, c,
etc.). The technology operates in a band of the
electromagnetic spectrum which according to
international conventions has been made licence
exempt, which means that everybody can use it
without having to ask for permission first.  One
of the licence exempt spectrum bands is at and
above 2.4 GHz.




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