Switching Wireless, a Soap Opera

Now that I’ve gotten my Wireless Perceptions guide out of the way, I can mention one of my favorite misconceptions.

Myth: “Switch to MUSTANG, it’s faster than MORNINGSIDE.”

The observant reader will note that this myth is contradictory to my previous assertions. No right-thinking person would possibly believe that something is slower when it is faster.

One wrinkle in our understanding of wireless is that we expect it work just like cell service. When we are close to a tower, we want to use that tower. If we move across the city, we want to change to closer towers without a blip.

Wireless (802.11, WiFi, etc) does not always work this way. The decision to leave one “tower” for another is completely up to the client. All of our radios have ways of encouraging clients to move but cannot force a client move to a closer radio.

It is the practice of most clients that I have seen–Windows 7, Mac OS X, and others– to stay associated with the original tower until practically disconnected. In one instance, a user closed their laptop in an area while connected to a nearby radio and walked down the hall to their office (which is out of range of the first, but well covered by a second radio). When they opened their laptop, it registered almost no connectivity in spite of abundant local wireless because it was still connected to the classroom radio.

At this point, it is not irrational to open up the AirPort menu to investigate. After the computer reconnects to MORNINGSIDE from down the hall (because it can still see a trickle of the wireless signal back in their office) they see that their network is performing poorly. In that menu, MORNINGSIDE will be presented with zero bars and MUSTANG with maximum bars.

In this case, the connection strength shows the MORNINGSIDE radio that is currently connected and in use. The MUSTANG network strength is displayed from the closer radio.

Fact: Close wireless is better than distant wireless.

At this point, our user disconnects from MORNINGSIDE in favor of MUSTANG and observes that it is significantly faster.

To conclude at this point that MUSTANG is faster than MORNINGSIDE is a half truth. A near MUSTANG is faster than MORNINGSIDE at a distance.

Moral of the story: Sometimes disconnecting and reconnecting to wireless will allow the computer to connect to a closer radio.

Wireless Perceptions

It has come to my attention that wireless is still considered somewhat amorphous and, as a result, I’ve seen some pretty interesting misconceptions.

How does our wireless work?

Small radios have a limited range so we have many of them all over campus. Sometimes they are in visible locations and sometimes they are hidden in closets or above ceilings. But, if you are receiving MUSTANG or MORNINGSIDE wireless networks, one must be nearby.

Every radio on campus is configured centrally to handle both MUSTANG and MORNINGSIDE networks.

In fact, MORNINGSIDE and MUSTANG share a number of features:

  • Both run on 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz spectrum, allowing both bands to connect.
  • Both run on every radio on campus.

What is the difference between MUSTANG and MORNINGSIDE?

  • MORNINGSIDE encrypts traffic passed through the air. MUSTANG does not.
  • MORNINGSIDE is authenticated. Because you log in with your Morningside credentials, Staff and Faculty are given more access than they would be on MUSTANG.
  • MORNINGSIDE will be faster. MORNINGSIDE has “High throughput” features of 802.11n enabled, while MUSTANG does not.

MORNINGSIDE is faster?

Yes. Sitting in my office, I benchtest 15.8Mbps on MUSTANG and 58.1Mbps on MORNINGSIDE. Everything is the same except for changing from MUSTANG to MORNINGSIDE.

WordPress-MU Upgraded

I just upgraded the site-wide installation of WordPress via the automated upgrade option. Easy as cake, awesome work WordPress-MU team!

Digital Library

A personal, consumer-grade box-fan began its death cries a little over two weeks ago alerting everyone to the fact that their Library server was aging and cooled only by a small fan with boards zip-tied to the ceiling tile. The machine wasn’t much newer.

As a result, something that had been postponed indefinitely is suddenly a priority and I am digitizing “Sirsi2”. It will no longer fear electronic death as its soul has been saved. Ones and Zeros. It now runs in an imaginary computer with an imaginary processor, imaginary memory, imaginary hard-disks, imaginary everything on top of one of the most complex and inventive infrastructures possible- VMware ESX.


WordPress progress

I’ve added SSL support to this wordpress installation so that all log-in and administration activity happens over an encrypted https link.

I’ve also found that once a user logs in to the system they stay logged in when they visit another morningside user blog so they can leave comments and what have you under their normal persona.

So far the system has been pretty straight forward and at this moment I could think that it is a scalable, maintainable system. We’ll see.