2017: Meta Mesh's Year of Progress
January was a curious month. Meta Mesh ended up spending a LOT of time preparing for the UpPrize contest and it felt like half the month was gone by the time we got to do anything else. After our UpPrize presentation, we spent a ton of time in the basement and have a lot of work to show for it. But let's go back to our list and see what progress has been made in the past 31ish days.
Meta Mesh is circling back with our partners in Beechview in the next few days. Not much progress has been made directly with our partner here but we do have an exciting new way of raising funds and better organizing volunteers which we will talk about a bit later. Adam has already identified a good area to put up a small network in Beechview and we expect to have good news in a month for you on this project.
We had a really excellent discussion with our partner in Sharpsburg last week. He came down to the Underground Martini Bunker, we showed him the back room where we tear up routers and solder things. His organization was quite interested and he took home a great document called the PittMesh Project Planning Document which we'll discuss later in this update.
SPRING GARDEN / EAST DEUTCHTOWN:
No progress to speak of for this part of town. We have been in contact with an organizer for this area but further synchronizing meetings need to be set up this month to get the ball rolling in this part of town.
WOODLAND HILLS SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Meta Mesh will be holding some discussions in the first half of February with three somewhat prominent figures in the Woodland Hills School District universe. Our goal is to bridge the "homework divide" which is often a result of the "Digital Divide" in so much as students from less affluent households do not have access to the most up-to-date information about subjects they study simply because they don't have Internet access. We aim to have the beginnings of a plan to combat this by the next update. Meta Mesh will be doing a 15 minute presentation at an upcoming committee meeting.
Meta Mesh is pretty jazzed about this project. We are now in discussions with a potential partner in Allentown that is well connected and has practical experience deploying technology like a mesh network but we're also working with a more on-the-ground partner to ensure we can serve the people who most need connectivity in Allentown. We hope to have more solid plans in the next month or tow. We did set a potential date for Meta Mesh to come out and visit Allentown in the coming months to sit in on a roundtable discussion with local leaders to tally the technological resources Allentown has that can be used for it's underserved sections. We're looking for a trip out east!
The Hill District is chugging along. We ended up doing some field work in January to replace our omnidirectional antennas on our AP150's with more directional antennas to encourage better connectivity. We have been surprised at how poorly a particular segment has faired in connectivity despite the fact that there is relatively clear line of site. To learn more about this issue, we encourage you to dig into the "Expected Performance" section of the linked PittMesh Project Planning Document linked below.
Basically, even though we had good visibility between a number of routers in the area, it appears that because there were so many errant WiFi networks in the area that connectivity and speeds were heavily effected and caused issues with even basic ping tests. We've mostly solved the issue though.
More installations to come soon in the Hill! We have contacted a few new sites this week to install at. We REALLY want to get the playground by the YMCA on Centre Ave toward Oakland.
Braddock received our very first solar powered WiFi router this past month! And even though it has been pretty cold, at the time of this writing, the device has been on continuously for 16 days! Below is a photo of what these solar powered devices look like and once again we thank BEDCO for helping us with the funds necessary to come up with the extra equipment not originally in the grant to get this project done! We built a total of three of these SAP150's and are looking for 2 more locations to install them.
SECRET PROJECT "BD-BOUNCE":
We still can't disclose the full details of this project. But we CAN tell you one thing about it:
Meta Mesh is proud to announce that we will be moving forward with a 500 Mbps FIBER OPTIC connection to the Internet specifically for PittMesh network connectivity! While we're still ironing out the details about how much the equipment will cost and how we'll be paying for it, we can say "THANK YOU" to KINBER for approving our temporary, exploratory connection to the their PennREN fiber network in order to help provide cost-free, high-speed Internet access!
This fiber optic connection clocks in at 500mbps with burstable speeds of up to 1 GIGABIT! We have some pretty specific plans for what we want to do with this bandwidth but we need to get some people on board first... Hopefully we can tell you more next month. THIS IS ENORMOUS!
Remember that last month we told you how Community Hub was going to be the KILLER APP for PittMesh? Well it's coming along. Above is a working prototype screenshot from our developer who is developing a cross-platform application that can be used to update the decentralized C-Hub splash page app.
As you can see, it's simple and effective. We have been meeting weekly to ensure it stays mostly on track. It's a simple program that anyone in the community can use to update their neighborhood's C-Hub splash page. Each user and post is cryptographically signed and can be used both on AND off of PittMesh and updates will appear on the proper devices in the proper neighborhood. We have determined that the actual splash page is pretty darn easy to generate and very lightweight so as not to tax our itty bitty routers. We hope to have a working version by next update.
PiNet is on hiatus while we work on getting some other backend things going at Meta Mesh. Both Justin and Jacob have heavily documented our setup of PiNet internally and were able to build the PiNet network again from the ground up- so we know it works twice!
Meta Mesh has purchased 5 brand new Raspberry Pi units which will be deployed on PittMesh in the next few months. Community Hub, DNS, NTP, and other services will be run from these devices instead of a big fat server in someone's dusty basement. I'm looking at you, Drew.
We recently priced out a new version of the AP300 with battery backup. It lools like we'll be able to retail them for about $200. Which is expensive for a little single-band router-- but NOT for a single-band router running 802.11n with 2 radios, 2 external antennas, a simple PoE injector AND a 2,000 mah battery with a water-tight case for outdoor use!
We're a bit concerned that the labor involved with making these devices will be extensive-- but we're a service company not a hardware company. We build'em, we fix'em, and we know the devices intimately-- and that's what you want from your local mesh networking group.
Cacti Sucks. We've switched to Graphite, Grafana, and Prometheus to collect that key indicator of success: How many people are using PittMesh at any one time. Thanks to the incredibly diligent work of Justin and Jacob, we have FINALLY begun to implement the scripts and tools needed to collect this data. Check out the screenshot above of the currently connected devices of about 25 PittMesh routers. As you can see, at almost any moment there are about 50 people connected to a PittMesh device-- and that's only about half the network! We are still rolling out this update and plan on piping this data to PittMesh.net in the next few months concurrent with some graphical refreshes of our web presence.
You might be wondering what took so long. We ran into a problem that plagued us for about week where some devices were graphing and others weren't. We banged our heads against the wall for days... only to realize that the times on each of our routers was wrong- which caused them to insert their data at WILDLY out-of-scope portions of our Grafana timeline we weren't looking at. We have now resolved. Unfortunately, because this project has taken so long to troubleshoot we will be using extrapolated data from early February as our January data. Justin and Jacob will hopefully be able to rectify the situation and we'll have very accurate date next month!
We want to redo MetaMesh.org. Unfortunately we've been busy doing other things. No updates on this project.
ONLINE TRAINING VIDEOS:
Adam has gotten in touch with someone from CMU who is quite keen on helping him make succinct YouTube videos that better explain the mysteries of WiFi and Mesh Networking. He has an initial meeting with this person next week. We HOPE to have our first video up by this time next month!
Thank you to everyone who has supported us through the UpPrize. We gave our pitch and are now just waiting to hear back from the judges. Frankly, the other applicants were so good we just don't know how stacked up. We hope we win the judge's hearts but it's all a bit of a toss-up now! Thank you again to everyone though!
Forget GoFundMe! Move over KickStarter! We're now discussing working with IOBY which stands for "In Our Back Yard" as a possible crowdfunding and crowdvolunteering platform!
Becuase our PittMesh installations take money AND people to complete, this 8 year old startup seems like a great fit as their staff actually TRAINS volunteers how to go out and grab more people by telling the story of building a PittMesh neighborhood in a more local, face-to-face way. While we haven't promised anything to them yet, working with IOBY to relieve pressure by letting them recruit and train people for us could be a huge benefit! They take a small percentage from any money crowdfunded and they work with volunteers roughly 4 hours a week to ensure messaging is tight, goals are met, and the project moves forward!
SECRET FUNDER REQUEST:
Our secret funder is still working behind the scenes and we have no updates from him/her/it/them. We hope to have news for you next month!
Make sure you check out our draft of the PPPD below! This document is the accumulated knowlege of implementing a PittMesh network in your neighborhood and describes how Meta Mesh goes about implementing a Community Wireless Network!
Download the PittMesh Project Planning Document Here!
Listen to our Executive Director, Adam Longwill NOT embarrass himself on Science Friday! On February 3rd he was featured in a segment about people sharing bandwidth to build their own Community Wireless Networks around the world! Adam has been a long-time fan of Sci Fri and has been listening for nearly ten years! It was a pleasure to speak with Ira and we all hope he has the opportunity to return some day!
Listen to the recording here!
How you can help Meta Mesh this month:
We're in the middle of the Winter Slump! It's hard to get installations done when the weather is so terrible. If you are able, please donate to our 501(c)3 non-profit and we will send you a tax deduction notification sheet for your records.
We're running lean until these projects come to fruition and we need YOUR help to stay afloat! Help us bridge the Digital Divide by keeping us out of debtors prison!
Thank you from all of us a Meta Mesh, We'll see you next month!