WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES on the magic of Christmas, and wifi
Sometimes a ‘from me, to me’ gift is in order
As Santa squeezed down the chimney in houses across The 570, my house was filled with the magic of WiFi bouncing from wall to wall, through floors, and saturating the neighbors with sweet, sweet electromagnetic waves. As an early Christmas gift to myself, I decided to replace my aging, but stalwart, router with a nifty dual-band wireless N, triple-antennae’d beast.
It’s been a long time since I even thought about routers, but the trusty Linksys I had gotten second-hand from a friend a couple years back had finally started to become unreliable. The whole reason I got that router in the first place was that it could be hacked and made to run on an open-source firmware called Tomato. WiFi routers are basically small computers these days, so ones running versions of Linux are able to accept a whole new operating system (basically) tweaked by tons of nerds to run in the most efficient manner possible. Tomato lets you tweak everything from the processor speed to the antenna transmit power to enabling bandwidth restrictions on specific connections. Essentially, you’ve got full control over all the hardware.
The old Linksys WRT54G was just about ubiquitous for years as the unassuming, black and blue box everyone used for home wireless. Turns out, the thing was a little powerhouse in disguise, and ran Tomato like a charm. When my even older router crapped out, I sought out a friend who had one lying unused in his basement and put it to work. Unfortunately, it decided to give up the ghost, and I went looking for a replacement.
The new undisputed king of open-source routers was built with nerds in mind — the Asus RT-N66U, officially nicknamed (not kidding) the “Dark Knight,” comes out of the box ready to accept whatever firmware you want to throw at it. There are whole builds of the Tomato project dedicated to the thing from nerds who spend hours writing code for a router, which is probably about exactly as exciting as it sounds.
When the monster arrived, the first thing I did after getting it out of the box was reset it and install the latest version of Tomato. It runs like a dream, but there was a whole new world of wireless for me to learn. For example, you might have a vague idea that the wireless N spec runs faster than the good old wireless B/G networks that carried us through the last decade. One version of the spec even runs on the same 2.4 ghz frequency as b/g. The even faster version, though, runs at 5 ghz, which isn’t backwards- compatible with older devices. A dual-band router like the aforementioned Dark Knight broadcasts at both frequencies, which allows newer devices to run at the top speed while older devices slum it on the typically more crowded 2.4ghz spectrum. To make things even crazier, fancy firmware and fast processing also allows you to create multiple guest networks with different rules, similar to the guest networks at hotels and coffee shops without requiring a whole separate device.
In the end, I’m bathing the entire house in waves. I’ve got three (count ’em) connections being broadcast, one of which is its own whole entity to keep visitors and the odd neighbor from seeing the computers on my private network. So if you happen to be driving through my neighborhood and see several flavors of TH Wireless floating through the air, know it’s being achieved with the power of the Dark Knight and Tomato.