The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Three Legged Ponies

If you were to give somebody something.... Something they honestly needed, and I mean needed badly...

Would you cripple it in anyway in giving it to them?

Of course not.

Unfortunately, I've been doing just that for a number of years now, but it wasn't supposed to be this way.

As The HeliOS Project nears its 1000th computer delivery, more than half of those computers are still without Internet service.

And trust me...I've been to the major broadband carriers. There is no help there. We've went above and beyond in trying to get a deal worked out.

I've in essence given these kids just over 500 three-legged ponies. To carry the analogy a bit further...I've inadvertently put blinders on these kids.

Gcompris and Childsplay along with other educational apps only go so far...they keep the child in the box.

As I've mentioned before, most of these families have to make financial decisions. Shoes for the kids or Internet? Car insurance every month or Internet...? There just doesn't seem to be much ever left over for the broadband service they need.

One of you is sure to suggest that they should just settle for dialup. Please...don't do that. You would not cripple your kids that way...don't ask me to do mine as such.

And yes, many of them have opted for dialup.... And found it sorely lacking.

The kids they have to compete against are not thusly hobbled. Recently, students in a middle school here in Austin were assigned homework to watch either the Presidential address to students or a YouTube video by an 11 year old prodigy giving a motivational speech.

Ever tried to watch YouTube on dialup?

Those who could not access the Internet were assigned to read three chapters from: "The 6 Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens"

Personally, I think the third option is the best but that's not the point.

Kids without computers or Internet access were asked to stop by the teachers desk and check out the book prior to leaving the classroom. Thusly gaining the stares and attention of the other kids while they filed out of the classroom.

I began to take matters into my own hands. Following Seattle's lead, I began building a Guerrilla Network in East Austin. We actually started doing so back when we first installed the initial computers at Space12. A project which will be completed now that Sam Lee has the room for the Learning Center remodeled and ready.

But our wireless network for East Austin...?

We've run into a bottleneck of sorts. USB wireless devices.

Trust me, we've field-tested 16 different makes or models.

Keep in mind, many of these computers are in "the projects"...multi-story brick and concrete structures that may be built in rows and blocks of buildings...many are denied wireless access by the other buildings around them.

The one device that we've found that works and out performs everything else we've tested is the Hawking HWUG1. it not only out performs more expensive devices, it has lasted for over 9 months so far, exposed to the elements without any measurable damage or degradation of signal.

The worst we've tried? the Netgear USB dongles.

They have consistently failed at 4 to 5 weeks of continuous use, and that is in an indoor environment. They just plain quit. We bought a bunch of them from Frys on sale for 7.99 per.

Now I know why.

We need to get as many of these USB devices and six foot usb extensions as we can. No they are not cheap until you realize that the price of one of these, especially at NewEgg equals the cost of a month of broadband service from Time Warner.

So is what we are doing legal? long as I don't juice the repeater output...

and we all know I wouldn't do that.

I am going to be purchasing a high-gain antennae shortly to facilitate the building of the East Austin network. I will have the expertise of two wireless security people guiding me, but for now, we need to get at least 20 of these folks online so I can start putting in the repeaters.

Should you have any experience or unique input into networks like these, I would like to hear from you.

If you have one of these beauties and can spare it, email me and we'll make the arrangements. Otherwise, we can see if we can't strike a bulk purchase deal with someone. We're talking with NewEgg now, although you may be able to find them cheaper.

If so let me know. Should you be so motivated you can donate to the project by clicking the icon at the top left of the page through our Non Profit conduit Software in the Public Interest.

Your help is greatly appreciated.

40 dollars a month for Time Warner Roadrunner or one single device that will easily deliver a years worth of wireless for that monthly price?

All-Righty Then


Andrew Cater said...

AHA !! - That might be why I'm having trouble with my Netgears :(

Edimax do a nice little USB number too - RT2500 so Free-ish firmware under Linux - Linux emporium in UK can probably tell you what the model is that works for them - contact John Pinner.

Alessandro Ebersol said...

Dear Mr. Stark,

Here in Brazil we have special internet access to public schools with lower fees/rates.
This is done for the best interest of the children. We live in a poor country and a harsh rality here. But at least our government wants to do the right thing. Aren´t USA alike ???

BTW, i would like to contact you sometime in the near future, so we could try to exchange experiencies.

Best regards from Brazil


Unknown said...

@ A

Please call me Ken...the "Mr." part sounds way to formal.

I do want to talk to you about something happening in Brazil. please email me at helios att fixedbylinux dott kom


Unknown said...

Dear Ken, I think that Alessandro's response is an excellent path to pursue. A goal of inexpensive or free Internet access for all students everywhere in the USA and the world.

Maybe using MESH architectures originating from the schools for their students would be a good focal point. With the schools involved the chance of acquiring financial aid and/or grants would be greatly increased.

Everyone has an opportunity giveback and help, it is just a matter of finding your own niche.

You're doing a fantastic Job!

Unknown said...

@ toga

Not gonna's the first thing we attempted but the schools will not allow it due to security reasons. Between them and the major broadband providers, they leave us little choice but to do this ourselves. Some have went as far as to lock down their signals due the increase of the OLPC machines that were creating meshes from their signal.


elronxenu said...

The Netgears are just terrible; I had one and it overheated and wouldn't find the access points at random. Utter junk.

On the other hand, I have had good success with the Dlinks. A bit uglier than the netgears, but they have airflow for heat dissipation. Also a weighted base which is also a USB extension cable. I bought three at once; all have worked fine for me.

Unknown said...

The Dlinks were the second series of devices we tested. They neither have the range or the ability to stand prolonged exposure to the elements. Many of these devices hang outside windows. Every device we've tried has rusted at the insert point in less than a month.

The Hawking has worked almost a year without anything but some exterior fading to the case and its range is superior to anything we've tried, to include devices half again their price.

While I appreciate your suggestions, we have invested a lot of time and financial resources to buying and testing these devices. The device we list as needed is the one that works better and longer than anything else we've tried. I would not ask for a specific device on a whim.


Anonymous said...

Have you looked at something like the Ubiquity Nanos?

They are designed to be outdoor units and use a standard ethernet cable with power over ethernet so it just uses the ethernet card instead of a USB adapter. Slightly more expensive at $49 but can be used as access points and/or subscriber modules.

I work for a wireless ISP and while these are not our primary radios of choice for our main business, we do use them for smaller deployments where we just need coverage of a small area/neighborhood and they do work very well and have a very low failure rate.

Kenny Armstrong said...

I've been reading your blog for some time now and find your work inspiring. I work as a systems administrator for a county government in VA. We are currently working on a grant for the "Broadband Everywhere" project that the government put out at the beginning of the year, where we are putting in wireless access to the areas of the county that don't have broadband. However we are working with a local ISP, which according to your post you are having problems with.

As for the repeater situation you are getting yourself into, we have a similar setup in an area that does not have any Internet access. We have a T1 line that comes in to a string of wireless repeaters, but the design of that network is crap, as the repeaters are not properly grounded (all of this was done by the lowest bidder) and the network is arranged in such a way that when one repeater goes out, a whole section of the network is dead. I highly advise in grounding everything well, get the best gear (rated for outdoor use) that you can afford, and go with a mesh design (as best as possible).

Also, you mentioned that you have you have components rusting on you? When I was a technician in the army, we combated that by rubbing Vaseline on exposed metal. Maybe that will help you here?

Anonymous said...

How many do you need..... I might be able to get some donations for purchase from some of the people I consult for... there is the same problem here north of Houston and am very interested in your solution.

I have been repairing and giving computers / laptops away to families and their children


rick hereat vixentech kom

Unknown said...

as per ubiquity Nanos

This is indeed worth looking into and may be part of our final system. Thank you for passing that along.


Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion, I would look for an Asian supplier for a bulk deal. Every time I've gone looking for parts, they were always much cheaper from Hong Kong than from the US (most of them are made there or Taiwan).

For example, I was looking for a heat-sink/cooling fan assembly for an HP laptop. HP won't sell it to me for any price. Best US supplier was $40 + $30 shipping. Got it from Hong Kong for $9 + $11 shipping. Had a similar experience looking for a PCI-e wireless card.

Anonymous said...

This seems pretty ghetto, but have you thought of adding this to a cheap wireless adaptor:

James Dixon said...


I can't do anything right now, but I should have some money to throw your way around Christmas or shortly thereafter.

I'll see if I can't "pony" up enough for at least one unit. :)

In the meantime I'll keep an eye out for sales on the Hawking units.

Unknown said...

I'll see if I can't "pony" up enough for at least one unit. :)


I thought I had the bad pun territory covered here...

Thanks Jim.


Anonymous said...

Instead of sticking the units out of the window themselves, and having to replace them because of the elements why not get something like this:

It's meant to operate outside, and also has the benefit of giving you a lot more signal than you'd receive from just a wireless device's normal antenna. They could just zip tie them outside the window and some people say they even received a 13db boost from it over a built in antenna.

kozmcrae said...

"I'll see if I can't "pony" up enough for at least one unit. :)"

That would be Attila The Pun.

Unknown said...

@ anonymous

Anonymous said...

How many do you need>>>?

We are shooting for 20. We have been donated enough for 6. 20 will give us enough to range the network another 7 blocks given two legitimate subscriptions to Time Warner Broadband we can build from.


Chris Lees said...

Newegg says it's a "Deactivated Item", meaning either you've bought all their remaining stock or they are no longer being sold... Nevertheless, please accept my donation for this worthy and very-cool cause :-)

Unknown said...

Chris, thank you...

And yes, we hit the bottom of the well pretty quick. We did an order for 5 of them, then when we tried to order another 5, we were informed they only had 4 left in stock so we altered the order to fit the stock remaining.

However, as requested...people posted some fairly cool alternatives to what we are using and it appears that the Nano, (see comments in this blog) might end up being a great and even superior replacement.

And as I've stated often...I don't write this blog to simply tell you my opinion...I do so to learn what I do not already know.

A goal which has yielded rich results.


Anonymous said...

I like what you are doing, especially working to provide the Internet access. I ran a failed PCs for kids effort a few years back. It failed because I couldn't provide Internet at an affordable cost. Heck, the folks were struggling to afford ink jet cartridges.

I am concerned, however, that you could deploy a very nice wireless network for folks only to find Time Warner stepping in to invoke the portion of your service agreement that limits connections to their service to PCs and other devices physically located at the service address associated with the account.

If your agreement has that clause (the one I found at Time Warner's did) you could end up with a dead multi-family network (bad). Depending on local/state laws, you could even face criminal penalties.

We know that Austin was recently targeted for special bandwidth monitoring, I'm not sure how long you'll be able to slip under the radar, if you are ignoring the service agreement.

Definitely, for the mid- to long-range, you need to pull some support together from people like those on the board of directors at It would be sweet if you could somehow tie into Austin's Free-Net, eh?

Again, love your work, just worried about this Time Warner issue.

Anonymous said...

Check out this solution to a similar problem. I believe they are using Linksys routers and a custom firmware along with "homemade" antennae. If it works well in Jalalabad, it should work in East Austin.

Anonymous said...

Last time I checked, some cities in Canada have free wireless in some places. (I'm in NB and there are some places that do it.)

Jon said...

Ken, thanks for posting about the Hawking adapter. I purchased one for use at a brick facility where the wireless router is the floor above the computer connecting to it. Works flawlessly. I was wondering though if you had tested this one from Monoprice in your 16 models :

Just curious was all and thanks for the post, it was extremely helpful.