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.

FreeBSD on the Desktop: How much are we giving up?

I’ve been running FreeBSD for awhile now. Looking back at my posts, it appears that I hammed up my Slackware installation right around the turn of the new year so near abouts three-and-a-half months.

FreeBSD on the desktop, if you’ve experienced it, is a learning experience. So much that at times I feel like I’m being punished for not knowing everything about my system.

To clarify on my desktop history you should know that a few months ago I switched to xmonad for my window management from Fluxbox. I went from an already minimal window-manager to an an even more minimal window-manager.

I don’t want my desktop to do everything for me all the time. On the other side of the coin, I don’t want to have to do everything for it.

I was reminded of this disconnect when I fired up Fedora 16 on a machine at home (it was running FreeBSD but I was sick of compiling packages from ports. Yes, I know I can get packages in binary but I can’t understand how to keep my binary packages and ports in sync for cherry picking every other source.) Everything just worked together.

After installing emacs and copying my global .emacs.d/ things are just working. After a `yum install xmonad` I am able to login under xmonad. I see they’ve even included a .xmonad/ in my home.

The Fedora developers must have a picture in mind of how the system should be and it appears that all packages have been designed with this picture in mind.

I don’t know what this means for FreeBSD. The craftsmanship of the FreeBSD project never ceases to amaze me. I love just setting my variables in rc.conf. However, it seems to me that more work needs to be done to integrate binary and source versions.

Some ports build against the kernel source. Why is my /usr/src not updated by freebsd-update? (Update: yes, it can update /usr/src.)

If FreeBSD could solve the Package vs Ports dilemma, and if packagers provided more apparent defaults for settings then FreeBSD would be a very strong desktop. I’m sorry that everything I plug in isn’t automagically configured, but doing that is complex and what is convenient for me may be inconvenient for the masses.

In the coming days, I do see myself spending some time contemplating the differences in experiences. FreeBSD truly is the unknown giant.

Mp3’s and blog posts.

Word on the street is that Morningsiders would like to embed MP3 files in their posts.

This sounds like a cool idea, so I’ve sat down and see that WordPress can already do something like this:


Sounds good. How to do it?

Step 1, have a mp3 file. =) That’s easy.

Step 2, choose “Upload/insert” from the post screen.
The Upload/Insert icon

Step 3, choose your mp3. Enter some details about it and select enter into post.

Step 4, enjoy.

I killed my workstation…

I cannot believe it. ~120 days uptime on my Slackware13.1-AMD64 system. I decided I needed to re-arrange my office. It was time for a change. Well, everything was nearly in place. When I went to slide my (running) PC back I accidentally touched the power switch on the rear after warning myself not to.

Evidently, 120 days of running leaves a lot of the file system in cache. It would not boot past lilo and I was ready for a change here, too. Booting to a live CD I backed up my /home/ and BFU’d the machine to FreeBSD 8.1-RELEASE. Last I tried it was a year ago, I’m interested to see if it or I have changed.

Sound (sp/dif)?
# kldload sound
# kldload snd_hda
# sysctl hw.snd.default_unit=2