Monthly Archive for January, 2006

IC alumni in parliament

Casually surfing the web when I discovered that Adam Afriyie (unfortuantely, most famous for being the first ‘black’ Tory MP) is an alumnus of Imperial College. Actually he went to the former Wye College, but still. I was aware of Imperial alumni in the Lords and in foreign parliaments but I wasn’t previously aware of any in the House Commons.

It seems Adam is not alone. Tom Brake (Lib Dem) and Joan Ruddock (Labour) were also educated at Imperial. Although, that’s still not very many. It seems that there remains a shortage of scientists and engineers willing to engage in UK politics, and the nation’s governance is the poorer for it.

JC Newstand: Bush and Sharon, Golders Green

Walking through Golders Green (where I live) the other day and saw this, which made me smile.

Jewish Chronicle Newstand

Read the graffiti as well as the headline…

UPDATE: Alex contacted me on MSN Messenger to say he couldn’t read all the words. So here they are. (Headline in bold; graffiti in italic.)

George Bush
To Ariel Sharon:

Sharon to Bush
Before you preach to me

Eat less,
Correct your own
Faults first

Back online

I’m now back online after a few days unscheduled absence…

For some silly reason I chose Christmas Eve (or thereabouts) to play with my ADSL router in a most dangerous manner, specifically messing around with custom firmware patches. In the process I managed to turn the thing into a brick. It was a school-boy error. I forgot to regenerate the checksum on a firmware image before flashing the device. Once flashed the router then refused to boot because the checksum was invalid. Since the whole firmware was completetly invalid it didn’t get far enough in the boot routine to enable me to use the emergency restore feature. So until it goes back to the manufacturer (or I decide to stick some wires into the circuit board over to a PC serial port) its about as useful as a paperweight.

This was, of course, the worst time of year to break a router. Not only did I have no internet access at home but I also had no access to libraries, College computer labs, etc. So that meant no internet access to research the devices on offer and make an informed decision.

My old router was a Solwise SAR-110. Something of a “pro-sumer” or “enthusiast” router. I was using it with multiple VLANs and doing other things that you normally need an expensive Cisco or 3Com piece of kit for. Buying a consumer router was not an option. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any of affordable advanced routers around.

In the end I took a different approach. I bought a Linksys WRT54GS wireless router. This does not have an ADSL modem built-in but I found a cheap, basic Linksys ADSL2MUE ethernet modem to use with it. Given the pressing need to restore internet connectivity this was, for me, a very rare instance of a retail purchase.

Why the WRT54GS? Well, it seems that this line of router is actually a MIPS computer (R4000 series) running Linux. Being Linux, the firmware is released by Linksys under the GPL. Inevitably there is a huge range of so-called ‘after-market’ firmware available for this device, which despite being a consumer router, gives me many ore possibilities than my old SAR-110. Aside from VLAN support I can implement a web proxy, IPv6, VPN termination, SSH daemon, and pretty much any other network service available on Linux!

At present I’m still using the stock Linksys firmware. I want to take the time to do customisation properly so I don’t end up with another dead brick. It’s also difficult to know which third party firmware to use, although OpenWRT and DD-WRT seem the most promising. Tinkering with this stuff could be quite fun and I may post some observations here as I get to grips with it.

Performance-wise things seem good. Connected directly to the ADSL modem I was getting ping times of 12-13 ms to my ISP, which is very fast. Through the router they slow to around 15-16 ms. However, this is what I used to get with the SAR-110 with no NAT, and at present I am still running under NAT. Furthermore, I have increased overhead because I’m using PPPoE at present. This I did not foresee: it seems that the ADSL2MUE does not have a ZIPB (aka ‘half-bridge’) mode when used with PPPoA. So I am having to use it as a simple ATM-Ethernet bridge and run the PPP client on the router. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way around this at present but the ADSL2MUE, like the WRT54GS, is a MIPS platform running Linux. Third-party firmware is, unfortunately, still in an early development stage and I’m not yet prepared to risk trying any. However, in a few months I should hopefully be able to run OpenWRT on the modem too and hence enable ZIP-B.

More important than speed, the setup seems very much more reliable and I also now have WiFi at home. I knew my SAR-110 was creaking and that I needed to replace it. As with my Mac Mini, I guess events forced me to just get on with it.