Weaving Together a Network of Networks: Report from BattleMesh v8

This summer marked the 8th annual Battle of the Mesh in beautiful Maribor, Slovenia at the foot of the Swiss alps. Each year, folks from around the world who work on open source mesh networking protocols (schemes for routing packets across a network) and community wireless networks converge to deploy a testbed mesh network, running different protocols on top of it and analyzing which of them perform the best.

Mount Pohorje in Maribor, Slovenia, site of BattleMesh v8!

Mount Pohorje in Maribor, Slovenia, site of BattleMesh v8!

This year, the conference agenda also included a wider variety of topics, from decentralized and secure file systems and applications to political discussions about the future of open hardware and firmware in the face of imminent federal regulatory lockdown measures.

The first day was largely spent socializing and setting up the topology of the network:

Topology of the testbed network built at BattleMesh v8

Five actively maintained and deployed routing protocols were tested over the course of the week:
* Babel, a distance-vector routing protocol for IPv6 and IPv4 largely developed by Juliusz Chroboczek in France;
* Batman-adv, an implementation of BATMAN [Better Approach to Mobile Ad-hoc Networking], spearheaded by the Germany-based Freifunk community;
* BMX7, an experimental protocol designed to bridge Layer 2 and Layer 3 routing;
* OLSRd1, short for ‘Optimized Link State Routing’ and widely utilized in many of community networks due to its stability, scalability and active development community,
* OLSRd2, a new iteration of OLSR designed to be more modular and flexible, published by the IETF in 2014.

Day 2 started out rather chaotically, as a dozen wireless hackers attempted to fix the internet they’d borked. The afternoon’s talks featured an excellent presentation by Julius, the lead developer of Babel, entitled ‘babel does not care.’ You can watch the talk (with accompanying slides) here. Julius’ talk was followed by a presentation of GNUnet, a free-as-in-freedom alternative and privacy-conscious network for peer-to-peer filesharing, VOIP communication, and peer discovery that works over a variety of transport mechanisms. Watch the full talk with slides here. Next, Elektra of Freifunk gave a presentation on the current state of TV whitespace spectrum and the potential future applications of UHF. I highly recommend watching the talk, as Elektra concludes with a stirring call-to-action for the community to engage with the political struggle over spectrum allocation, one unfairly slanted toward powerful telecommunications companies over free and open community network usages.

Day 3 kicked off with a presentation by Mathieu Boutier on source-specific routing in Babel [Video]. Next came a presentation on cjdns, a distributed and end-to-end encrypted p2p IPv6 meshnet project better known as Hyperboria. They have just begun collaborating with a fascinating project called IPFS, the Interplanetary File System, which combines ideas from Git, Bittorrent, and the web to enable such applications as peer-to-peer filesharing through creating a distributed content cache accessed through a hashed URL. Check out their talk, which appropriately followed the cjdns presentation. Folks from Battlemesh are using IPFS to store media content uploaded by conference participants!

An easy-to-assemble, open hardware plasma cutter from Irnas.

We celebrated the mid-point of the conference by spending the afternoon and evening in Maribor, first with a tour of KreatorLab. KreatorLab is home to a bevy of inspiring open hardware projects, including a plasma cutter, a 3D printer, and Koruza, Musti’s brainchild enabling gigabit wireless optical links.

After our visit to KreatorLab, we headed over to the GT22, a self-described “transdisciplinary laboratory in real space with transnational guerilla art school institutes” hosting space for theater rehearsals, a radical library, a photography museum, an indoor skating ramp and a party space populated by a VJ projection screen and a DJ booth. While the DJ played dance music, our true-to-form hackers proceeded to gather outside and along the walls not dancing 🙂

Thursday, Day 4 of the conference, began with a presentation of Cake (Comprehensive Queue Management Made Easy), a project that works to make wifi faster by reducing network latency. The following presentation by Dave Taht provided an excellent overview of the current insecurities in Internet of Things devices outlined across 11 layers of the network stack, culminating in a rousing call-to-action for hackers to build more and better open hardware. I highly recommend watching this talk!

Dave’s talk was a fitting antecedent to the subsequent presentation and discussion of the FCC’s recent proposal to lock down wireless routers by requiring vendors to “ensure that only properly authenticated software is loaded and operating the device.” This has huge implications for community networks in the US, with similar rules being discussed for the EU and Canada. After a heavily animated discussion, folks continued to discuss the issue over lunch, with many inspired by Dave’s talk to create our own hacker-friendly hardware down to the chipset level. We created a mailing list to collaboratively compose letters to the FCC, the comment period for which has recently been extended to October 9th and is open to everyone.

Unfortunately, I missed the entirety of Thursday afternoon’s talks as I literally sat in the same spot at our lunch table conversing with new friends into the evening.

Friday kicked off with a presentation from Demos to consolidate and test various decentralized applications with the aim of supporting a more decentralized web. She was followed by Nemesis presenting, NetJSON and Nodeshot, projects working to build node databases for network monitoring and administration. After lunch, Paige gave an impressive presentation on MaidSafe, a secure and decentralized storage and communications platform.

On the last day, a few of us set up a video camera and did short interviews with representatives from as many community wireless networks as we could gather. The focus of the interviews was to explore the various motivations and unique challenges faced by a diversity of community networks, with the aim to inspire and guide the development of many more to come. Watch this blog for updates once the videos have been edited and posted to the web!

So… which protocol won?
Given the complexity and variety of tests and analytics, the ‘winner’ is difficult to determine. Check out the beautiful (and nearly complete!) documentation, including detailed graphs and links to git repos of the software used to test the network here.

Please drop me a line at jenny [at] sudomesh [dot] org if you’d like to help plan for the very first ‘BattleMesh West’ at the Omni Commons next year!

What is Information? A Sudo/BAPS collaborative alt summer schooling!

Last Saturday marked the final day of the Bay Area Public School’s weeklong Summer School, the theme of which was Information. We started the day with a Cryptoparty – hands-on workshops to assist folks in generating key signatures, using encrypted and off-the-record chat, and other tools such as Tor and Redphone – this went really well, with lots of folks leaving having learned new skills or solved a particular problem, and all culminated in a delightfully geeky key-signing party.

There were a bunch of great talks:
* My housemate, Craig Rouskey, gave an amazing presentations on his citizen science project to eradicate gonorrhea using phage therapy.
* Marc Juul and I presented on our project to build a mesh network in Oakland!
* The lovable Danny O’Brien spoke about the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s work in fighting for digital civil liberties and why privacy and digital security are important.

The day culminated in a panel with Moxie Marlinspike (of Whisper Systems), Danny, Bill from the EFF, Marc and myself, with the attendees participating in a Q&A.

THEN WE PARTIED. IT WAS AWESOME.

Notes and link to the livestream (mad props to JC!) are here: https://sudoroom.org/wiki/Cryptoparty/2013/August

Bridging the Physical/Digital Divide: Hyperlocal Networks and Community-Based Asset Mapping

Hyperlocalism seeks to bridge the physical/digital divide by focusing on the use of information to create technology tools and media oriented around a well-defined area and inspired by the needs of local residents. Maps and mesh networks are tools that can be particularly leveraged to enable hyperlocal connectivity and information flow; I’ll briefly unpack the latter (mesh) and then demonstrate the possibilities for hyperlocal mapping.

510pen as conceptualized by Mark Burdett is based on the principles of the Open Wireless Movement: that by sharing our wifi with our neighbors, we contribute to increasing access to the internet while simultaneously creating more positive relationships with our local communities. This premise is clearly the most obvious benefit of mesh networking and is enthusiastically supported by the folks I’ve been talking with in Oakland, who see the lack of widespread internet access in their neighborhoods as a very present and real issue.

Then there is the application layer – which is the level at which TidePools is working to create software for hyperlocal neighborhood mapping. Beyond internet access, a resilient communications network endeavors to create point-to-point networks that mesh the barriers between physical and virtual space. What kinds of data and landmarks define the available resources and value of a physical community?

It might look something like this:

…in which the skills and resources of your neighbors are made visible and available to others on the local network.

Or perhaps like this, visualizing the history of a neighborhood through a timeline-based photographic montage:

Alternatively, we could use hyperlocal mapping to depict a more realistic sense of the cultural characteristics of various neighborhoods, rather than the oft-arbitrary borders drawn by state governments:

As I continue interviewing and chatting with folks about things they’d love to see on local maps, a few themes have emerged:

  • Environmental activists seeking to visualize pollution data, park locations, local wildlife, etc;
  • Unemployed and homeless folks seeking to map out resources such as public computers, food kitchens, excellent dumpsters for food foraging, and crisis centers for various demographics.
  • Long-term residents wishing to map out and connect local businesses and organizations in their neighborhoods.
  • Community organizers interested in mapping their community to strengthen awareness of existing resources and publicly accessible spaces.
  • Hackers and techies interested in creating decentralized networks and alternative telecommunications (eg; mesh networks, low-bandwidth software radios, etc;) – which necessarily requires mapping line-of-sight on rooftops and potential barriers to connectivity (such as raised highways)
  • Open government folks mapping open civic data such as crime, foreclosed / blighted properties, city legislative initiatives, and historical information.

    Here are some projects I’ve been working on with some other hard-working, socially-conscious people that are tackling these needs:

  • Tidepools – Hyperlocal neighborhood mapping software.
  • 510pen (Five One Open) – Creating an East Bay mesh network.
  • Open Oakland – Volunteers mapping out open civic data in Oakland.
  • OpenOakland Digital Divide – Mapping out existing Oakland efforts addressing the issue of access to technology.
  • Oakland Wiki – A site all about Oakland, with over 2,000 articles written by community members.
  • Mycelia – A decentralized database I’m working on with my partner for mapping tools/inventory, skills, and projects between and among hackerspaces, intentional communities, and other self-organizing spaces.

    I welcome and encourage further suggestions and use cases in the comments below!

  • How to Make a Mesh: Coalition-Building in Oakland

    As I launch into week 5 of my work with the Open Technology Institute, I’ve begun to collaborate with a variety of groups, organizations and actors who constitute part of the emerging network of activity around developing community mesh networks and mapping applications in Oakland, California. The idea is to facilitate the grassroots (bottom-up) development of community mesh and mapping initiatives already ongoing in the East Bay, while playing a supporting role in documenting progress and connecting communities of interest.

    sudo room is a young hackerspace in uptown Oakland dedicated to transparency, social justice and the creative application of technology. Sudo room is an open, inclusive space for free education and access to tools, as well as a venue for hosting local civic hacking, technology and learning initiatives. The groups and projects detailed below meet at and work regularly out of sudo room, which serves as an ongoing hub for events ranging from 72-hour hackathons to meetings between city projects and local hackers.

    510pen Network Map

    510pen Network Map, with currently-inactive sudo room node information displayed.

    510pen is an East Bay community mesh network started by Mark Burdett in 2009. Currently, most of the nodes that were set up between 2009 and 2011 are inactive and in need of tech support. As of last week, we’ve begun meeting weekly at sudo room to discuss basic hows and whys of community mesh networks; wireless network hardware and software; how various community wireless efforts can cooperate and collaborate; models for organic growth, organization, support and sustainability; and how we can join forces with local residents, small businesses, non-profits, municipalities and anyone else to build a ubiquitous community mesh network.

    Oakland Wiki is a LocalWiki repository for documenting the infrastructure, communities, and history of Oakland. Oakland Wiki hosts weekly edit-a-thons at the Oakland History Museum, where older residents / historians meet with the Oakland Wiki team to document the history of Oakland. Oakland Wiki is also hosting a civic data session at Open Data Day on February 23rd. The goal of this session is to provide a qualitative focus to an otherwise quantitatively-focused event, encouraging the contribution of information about city council, city policies, politics, and key figures in the city – essentially creating narratives around the past, present, and future of the city in an accessible and historically-rich manner.

    Oakland Wiki: Mural Lane

    Oakland Wiki: Mural Lane

    The Open Oakland Digital Divide Group is a collaborative effort to coordinate the various organizations and individuals working on digital divide issues in Oakland. Spawned out of a session at CityCamp Oakland last December, the group consists of local citizens, technologists, and community change workers interested in creating solutions for effectively addressing the digital divide in Oakland. At our first meeting, held on January 24th, we articulated a few tangible goals to work on: individually reaching out to preexisting groups addressing digital divide issues to assess their needs and available resources; group field trips, visiting for instance a local swap meet where broken computers are donated to a group that turns them into working machines; and creating a central directory of digital divide resources for the city, including for instance a map of local, free tech meetups.

    These are just a few of the most prominent players and projects as we move forward in developing relationships with community organizations and neighborhood groups. I will continue to transparently document my ongoing research progress at the Tidepools Wiki, and welcome your comments and contributions in the comments of this post!