Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Local Charm

I have to admit, I wasn't too impressed with Denton whenever I first drove up from my comfortable suburbs of Plano. But as it turns out, a drive through a city does not give you enough merit to judge what the city is like, despite how I also claim that Las Vegas is amazing since I once drove through it on the way to California... Besides, I was merely driving through 380, I hadn't even come near the college yet to find:

This little joint is part of what makes college life great. Within walking distance, this cleverly named restaurant's title does not do it justice. It is, however, short, sweet, and to the point. They do indeed sell Chinese food, and fast. Despite having a drive thru, my roommate and I always walk here and simply eat in. Call me conservative but...
A good ol' fashioned Chicken lo Mein always does the stomach good. My particular dorm does not require its residence to buy a meal plan, so I often find myself indulging in such deliciousness. I am curious though... is it pronounced lo-"Maine" or lo-"Me-yin"? I once told someone I loved chicken lo-"Maine" and she corrected me saying it was pronounced "lo-me-yin". Since she was Chinese I took her word for it but I'm still curious as to how you're supposed to pronounce it. After all this girl was only six years old so... by all means enlighten me!

They also always have very corny Mexican soap operas on. haha.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Desperate Times call for… Engineering-Part II

I’ve had plenty of setbacks… You don’t know how glad I am to be able to live up to my promise of writing this entry. It really did take forever for me to get this all together without internet. Namely the N-type female chassis mount connector took me a long time to find, as I outlined in the last entry. Tanner’s Electronics thankfully had all the stuff I needed, but before that I had spent days going to different places and trying to find an N-type connector. No one I talked to even knew what it was. The closest I got was an f-type connector used for coaxial connections, which mind you, won’t work for this particular project. Anyway, enough complaining about my mishaps.

Kudos to anyone who can tell me what time it is from that binary clock (the square thing with all the blue lights)

Isn’t it beautiful? If you notice, I even used wall tacks to hold in the N-Connector. Not such a good idea as you’ll see in a second but I was just eager to test this thing. The trickiest part was getting a hole through the can. Never mind butchering the solder a couple of times, as I’ve never soldered anything in my life. Getting the hole through the can proved to be tough without a drill, nail, or anything.

Poor thing never stood a chance

Thank you, Kyle, for showing me how to solder! Once I soldered the #12 copper wire onto the connector, punched holes through the can, and mounted the wire inside, it was time to test it. Here’s a chart of what my Wi-Fi situation looks like without the cantenna.

So I can see 2 access points and both are pretty poor signal. Each have a -91 and -86 RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) reading, which would amount to poor bandwidth and probably dropped connections every so often. Apogee is a local service provider, and admittedly we have service now that it’s been 3 weeks since the lightning hit, but given that, my signal strength is pretty poor and I can’t live with poor signal strength. Now let me plug in my cantenna....

Wow! Simply plugging in the can shows me all the world I was missing out on… This image shows a long period of time before I eventually wired everything up. You can see that at 1:10 PM, as soon as I hooked up the cantenna to the wireless USB card, I was inundated with access points. Now, opposed to the 1 or 2 I was receiving signal from earlier, I now have a plethora of options!

If all I have to do is plug in the can to see all these, what happens when I point the can in a certain direction? Afterall, it is a waveguide antenna. Out there you see plenty of campus buildings, a football field, and most importantly, more radio waves! Well you don’t see them per se but believe me, they're there.

My roommate needs to do laundry... I guess I do too though

My wall tacks then proceeded to fall off the can… thus destroying my cantenna. I’m no civil engineer, but I’d say tacks make for a pretty shoddy construction job. The image above is my “improved” can which is bound by soldering the N-connector to the can and duct taping it for reinforcement… I call it the McCormick Cantenna MkII

This is what the can looks like on the inside. There are actually several complex math equations used to determine where you need to puncture the can and how long the #12 copper wire needs to be. To save you the headache, and to avoid admitting I don’t know how to do the math, I used an online calculator to figure out where these need to be. Given the diameter of the can was 3.125 inches across, I needed to puncture the can 2.9 inches up from the bottom. Ideally my can could have been a bit longer to compensate for the length of the wavelength I’m trying to guide since Wi-Fi operates at a frequency of about 2.4 GHz.
To fully test this, I would like to find a big open field, and set up my access point as far away from my can as possible and see what my signal strength can be. Cantennas and waveguide antennas in general can increase the range of your Wi-Fi connectivity by up to a kilometer or in some cases many kilometers. Industrial level antennas can provide wi-fi from the base of a mountain to those users on top of the mountain! Perhaps range testing of my cantenna can be for another entry ;)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Desperate Times Call For… Engineering

As you may remember from my last entry, my dorm was struck by lightning about 3 weeks ago. Although things could be worse, as in my computer could have blown up or the whole housing establishment could have caught fire, instead we merely lost internet. However, this is not to be taken lightly. In fact, for someone like me in an age like this, internet is like a faithful sidekick – it’s always there and no matter how bad the going gets, the trusty steed is still there chuggin' along with you, except without internet, I feel I’ve lost my right hand man.

This is the first of a two part entry I will be putting together this week. I’ll be sharing my experience on coping with internet loss, and my journey to getting it back!

This is no Epic Narrative akin to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars etc, but it’s a story worth telling. The problem: I have no internet. The solution: DIY Wireless Range Extender, AKA, the Cantenna!

A Cantenna, for lack of a better term, is a combination of a Can and an Antenna. Basically, you can use a can and some crafty techniques to build yourself a cheap directional waveguide antenna for long range Wi-Fi.

Here’s what you need:
• A Can
• N Type Female Chassis connector
• 2”+ of #12 copper wire
• Nuts/Bolts
• A Desperate need for internet or otherwise curious as to how antennas work
• Solder/Soldering gun

This list will cost you about $10+, give or take a few bucks. Since I’ve never done this before, I ended up buying a bunch of stuff I didn’t need. Oops!

I actually already had the can of soup, soldering gun, and keyboard

I’ll be taking most of that back within the next week! Construction starts ASAP, as soon as I can finish a couple of other projects I’m working on!

It was harder than you think it would be to find all of this though, especially without internet. I had to use the good ol’ cell phone and call a dozen people before I found all that I needed. There are several stores not worth mentioning that didn’t have anything I needed, but the one store that did have everything was Tanner’s Electronics in Fort Worth… Thank you Tanner!

Despite my endless search for all my materials, there is still a diamond in the rough to be found here. A thin, modest and cute looking cashier with short light hair rang me up at Home Depot. She drew this on my receipt

She said "you have very pretty eyes" :) that made my day! It was pretty obvious I was flustered as I lost my stuff I bought 15 seconds ago and had to ask where I put them. She smiled and laughed as she pointed at them sitting on the checkout counter. In a nervous dash to end my embarrassment, I laughed and admitted to my social ineptitude, and briskly walked out the door, also forgetting where I parked. Nerdyness always gets the best of me in every situation…

End of part I

Friday, November 6, 2009

So Brett, What’s it like at college?

I don’t know. I’ve been in college for 3 years and I still don’t know. College is so dynamic. One moment you’re having fun eating candy during Halloween, and the next moment you are keeled over on your bed suffering from some virus you caught over the weekend. One day you walk into class and you think, “man, I know this stuff like the back of my hand,” then you realize that that is a cliché, and you don’t really know or care about what the back of your hand looks like. Then your teacher hands back a paper you worked hard on but you only earned a C, and you feel like giving him a piece of your most well known body part… the back of your hand. At least… he’ll soon know it better than I do.

That’s the best part about college. Backhanding your teachers.

Nah I don’t backhand my professors. I’ll tell you what I know about college though. To be honest, it’s like one of those D&D dice. The kind that has like 50 sides to it. More options than a box of chocolate. Yeah I just one-upped Forrest Gump. Not only do you never know what you’re gonna get, but you have to take what it gives you and run with it. It won’t be all chocolaty sugar coated either. But when life gives you lemons (or a crappy roll of the dice), make lemonade (or wait for your next turn so you can make a new roll). My last “roll of the dice” landed me in the library for several hours while I tik-tak away at a computer science project. By the time I quit (I still haven’t finished, mind you), it was 12:30 at night. The library still had several students chatting and working. It was redeeming to find myself in the midst of so many other people in my situation – in the library working on some project. Whenever I used to sit at home or my dorm and do projects, I’d convince myself that I was the only person in the world awake at that moment, and I was working on some assignment that all of my classmates finished a long time ago. A glance at the library disproves my small naïve world.

So where’s this lemonade you were talkin' about Brett? Yes I seem to have simply been given lemons and no water, sugar, and ice to make lemonade with. It’s okay, last time I tried to make lemonade, it was from one of those little kool-aid packets, and I took a sip and it was the most bitter, sour, insane lemonade I had ever created. My roommate refused to try it…

My “lemonade” if you will comes from the trip home. The campus gains sort of serene environment at 12:30 AM. I’m used to seeing hundreds of people, police officers, honking cars, crazy pedestrians diving in front of my car… This time it was a quiet, dark, moon-lit walk home. My roommate left for the weekend, my friends are asleep, so it’s finally quiet time… you really learn to appreciate quiet time in college.