A Temporary Internet Lounge

When you need an Internet access area at an event, do some advance preparation to create a custom Linux load so everything goes smoothly on the big day.

and saved the file. I fixed permissions with:

chmod 644 /etc/rc5.d/S99flashplugin

Once this was done, I pressed Ctrl-D to leave chroot, and then I deleted the history file:

rm /mnt/hda1/source/root/.bash_history
touch /mnt/hda1/source/root/.bash_history
chmod 600 /mnt/hda1/source/root/.bash_history

Next, I started Mozilla, edited the bookmarks, set the default home to the convention home page and tweaked the default settings. These changes were stored on the RAM disk; to move them onto the hard disk I used:

cp -r ~knoppix/.mozilla/knoppix/ujixazk6.slt/*
↪/mnt/hda1/source/etc/skel/.mozilla/knoppix/
↪ujixazk6.slt
chmod -R 644 /mnt/hda1/source/etc/skel/.mozilla/
↪knoppix/ujixazk6.slt/*

Now that I had assembled the software, I created the compressed filesystem:


mkisofs -R -U -V "KNOPPIX.net filesystem" -P \
"KNOPPIX www.knoppix.net" -hide-rr-moved \
-cache-inodes -no-bak -pad /mnt/hda1/source | nice -5 \
/usr/bin/create_compressed_fs - 65536 > \
/mnt/hda1/master/KNOPPIX/KNOPPIX

During the above process, I received and ignored a warning message that the filesystem was not ISO 9660. This process was the slow step, taking about an hour to complete on a Pentium II 350. Afterward, I created the CD as a whole:

cd /mnt/hda1
mkisofs -pad -l -r -J -v -V "KNOPPIX" -b \
KNOPPIX/boot.img -c KNOPPIX/boot.cat -hide-rr-moved \
-o /mnt/hda1/knx/knoppix.iso /mnt/hda1/master

From here, I used LFTP to move the resulting file to the support box for burning onto CD-R.

Some issues came up while polishing Knoppix, including the room's layout, power supply and router situation. In terms of room layout, I went with a large rectangular arrangement that left enough space for people to be comfortable, kept most cables from being a possible tripping hazard, placed the switches away from mischief and left a fairly safe place for volunteers to store their backpacks/bags. The cables that did have to cross the floor were covered with heavy cloth tape to stay safe. The downside to this arrangement was that I was limited to having roughly 28 machines in the room.

Before posting room rules, I consulted with the convention volunteer lawyer, Ken Smookler. The result was a sheet that disclaimed responsibility if anything went wrong and reserved the right to remove any being causing trouble (the word being used more out of concern for pets than extraterrestrials, but it legally covered us for both).

There wasn't enough power in the room to support 28+ machines, so a month before the convention I arranged with an electrician at the convention site to have extra outlets installed. In calculating power needs, I assumed 5A per PC (a typical maximum for the PCs I was looking at) and 2A per monitor. I knew the PCs would not consume their rated maximum, so I would have a comfortable safety margin. So I ordered the installation of 16 × 15A circuits (two PCs and two monitors per circuit, one circuit for switches/hubs and one circuit for laptops). This is where most of the Internet Lounge's budget went, and power never was a problem.

For the router, I considered using a Coyote Linux box similar to ones I previously had built. The problem with using a homemade router, though, was the time it would take away from other preparation work. Plus, dealing with failure would require more than running to a shop with the receipt for a warranty exchange. So, I bought a basic D-Link router/DHCP server from an office supply shop that had long hours, located near the convention site.

Six days before the convention I found out what sort of machines I would be getting and was able to start testing hardware. They were Pentium II 400MHz boxes with 128MB of RAM. KDE could have run on them, but IceWM ran great. Four days before the convention, I found out a new sponsor had to be listed on the systems. Three days before the convention, the machines shipped to the convention site. Two days before the convention, I received final approval of the setup from senior convention committee member Lance Sibley, and I started burning CD-Rs, burning a few spare CD-Rs just in case.

The day the computers shipped I got a report that some of the machines had been banged around in transit, and two arrived at the convention site with problems. Although the plan was to have 28 machines, only 26 were available. The day before the convention I did setup with volunteers Robert Eveleigh and Juan Sanmiguel. A few problems turned up, including a bad switch. A call to my office got a replacement, which necessitated buying an Ethernet crossover cable at a nearby office supply store.

Once the convention started the Internet Lounge ran 24 hours a day for the duration. So, I couldn't stick around all the time to watch things, and a number of non-Linux administrators (including Robert and Juan) monitored the room. Thanks to Knoppix, In the event of problems or oddities, I could tell people simply to reset a machine. Because the hard drives weren't being used, this was a fine solution.

Figure 1. A view inside the Lounge showing the central square. One of the major volunteers, Juan Sanmiguel, is shown on the right-hand side of the picture.

Wireless access for the convention had been considered briefly but the idea was rejected for several reasons, including cost. This did not stop wireless access from happening, though. One convention attendee, Keith Lofstrom, wanted wireless access, and he put his money where his mouth was by bringing in an 802.11b wireless hub, a feature that proved popular.

There were grumbles about where the Lounge was located relative to the rest of the convention. Some people wished I had installed a few more pieces of software, including AIM and Yahoo instant messenger clients and automatic updates from a timeserver (some of the PC clocks drifted). There also were requests for a printer, but setting up a payment system to cover paper/toner costs would have been another significant project.

Still, Mozilla and IceWM did not cause any trouble for this crowd. The only real lineup for computers occurred just after the Hugo Awards ceremony, during which awards for the best of the previous years' science fiction were presented. Fortunately, that line didn't last long, and for most of the time the Lounge was busy if not full. Overall, users' reactions were positive from those who had never used Linux, including one person who said this was the best Internet Lounge ever.

Lessons learned: the instant messenger demand surprised me and the overlooked timeserver would need to be looked at in the future. Still, the ability to set up machines quickly and to make tweaks to the setup would not have been possible without Knoppix.

Colin McGregor (colin@mcgregor.org) works for a charity, does consulting work on the side and has served as President of the Toronto Free-Net. He also has made presentations at the Toronto Linux User Group New User meetings. He enjoys attending, if not always working at, Science Fiction conventions.

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I was waiting for this since long time, Need more info.

kintesh_patel's picture

I am a software developer grown in Microsoft and currently moving to Linux. I immigrated to USA from India and I see lots of Indian old aged people, who do not know how to operate computer but wants to read Online Indian Newspaper everyday on Internet to stay in touch with motherland. I was waiting for this type of (Linux based) article for them as I have lots of old computers in my basement to provide them for Internet surfing.

I gone thru this article as I received LJ, I am at beginner level, so it looked little bit tough to follow all the steps. It would be helpful if this article can expend in 2-3 part for beginner level people.

I also provide technical support to some of my relatives in Canada on phone, when their Windows gets crash. Providing this type of CD will also good for them to bring them on Internet first when their Windows has crashed.

Thanks Colin for writing this article, for which I was waiting since long long time.

Kintesh Patel
Columbus, OH

I just read your article abou

ElaineNormandy's picture

I just read your article about the Torcon Internet Lounge and wanted to let you know I was one of your users. I had been dissatisfied with Microsoft licensing trends, security issues, and business practices for some time, and using the Linux machines in the Lounge gave me a lot of confidence that a Linux desktop was feasible.

Within a month of returning home, I started running Redhat 9 on a dual boot machine, and a few months after that a local PC dealer built a white box machine for me to which I installed Fedora Core as the only operating system. We currently run three Fedora Core 3 systems, and although two of them still dual boot to Windows 98, sometimes we will go weeks without doing so.

Great article

stash420's picture

GREAT READ! This gives me hope... Linux is coming and noone can stop it!

I especially liked your workaround with the Flash plugins... brilliant!

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