Linux Makes Wi-Fi Happen in New York City

Community groups, startup companies and even the phone company are using Linux to make New York City into one big happy wireless network hot spot. How is your town doing?
Luggables and Wearables

On Sunday I returned to Alt.Coffee to meet with Ahmi Wolf. He and Mark Argo are the creators of the Bass-Station, a turn-of-the-80s suitcase-size ghetto blaster that also happens to be a digital juke box and a Wi-Fi hot spot. Ahmi and Mark removed the radio and cassette components of this funky old thing and replaced them with a variety of modern portable Wi-Fi goods: Via mini-ITX motherboard, wireless interface card hooked to an antenna, Debian (Woody) loaded onto a CompactFlash card, and a 120GB hard drive. They left the amplifier and speakers and hooked them up to the board's audio output.

The result is the social and aesthetic opposite of an iPod: a big ugly stereo that's also a Linux-based Wi-Fi access point, plus a juke box with a big-ass hard drive. The idea was to create a juke box for all kinds of convivial settings—from parties in parks to hang-outs on college campuses. Everyone connected by Wi-Fi to the Bass-Station gets to contribute music and play disk jockey, so it rewards cooperation as well.

The Bass-Station belongs to the neighborhood extranet—not to an individual and not to the whole world. Ahmi explains:

The Bass-Station is not connected to or a part of another network. It creates it's own network that exists only within the range of the Bass-Station itself. On one hand, the range of Wi-Fi is limited, but the limited range makes it special. Users of the network are all in close proximity to each other, making them members of a community—be it a stable, persistent community or a spontaneous and mobile one like the Bass-Station's network.

Ahmi's Bulgarian friend Milena Iossifova, a fellow student at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, has a way-cool Wi-Fi creation of her own called Wi-Fisense, which she calls “a wearable scanner for wireless networks”. It's a handbag with 64 LEDs in three different colors, each turned on by Wi-Fi activity on a different channel.

The optimism and energy of all this reminded me of what Silicon Valley felt like back in the 80s and 90s but without the corrupting context of other people's money. Ahmi, Milena and Dave already have produced enabling goods in this new culture.

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Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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Re: Linux Makes Wi-Fi Happen in New York City

Anonymous's picture

Personally, I'm looking for this kind of 'exciting development' in my neighborhood, but rural New Hampshire is not going to go WiFi for a few decades, I'm certain!!! I'm glad someone is doing it, though.

I really loved the ghetto blaster conversion idea - very reminiscent of the 1970s trend of converting floor standing 78 RPM Victrolas to use 'modern' turntables (to play LPs/45s) and adding an AM/FM reciever to make a former cast-off into a retro home entertainment center.... just like this Bass-Station, for today.

Great article!

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