Light Reading

Da-Doo Ron RONJA

Light Reading
Old LR Mobile Gizmo
Light Reading
7/12/2002
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You know how it is.

First, you get a little 802.11b hub, so you surf the Web in your jockeys from the comfort of the old brown couch. Soon you feel the need for a little more power, just a little more range. So you get to work with the Pringles can (see WLAN - Snacking & Hacking). But you can handle it, right?

Then before you know it -- sniff -- you're trying to make a laser out of a Skippy's jar and a couple of mirrors. But you can handle it, you can stop any time you want, right? Well, that seems to be the experience of at least one person who posted -- amid a certain amount of derision -- on Slashdot, a technology discussion board owned by a subsidiary of VA Software.

"Lately I've been obscessed [sic] with grassroots community network projects, and the hardware that enables them," writes the poster using the handle Graham Wheeler. (Graham Wheeler, incidentally, is the author of "Brew Classic European Beers at Home" and other home brewing books. Unstrung was unable to confirm that the Graham Wheeler posting was indeed that Graham Wheeler -- though the research was fun.)

"Most sites I have seen focus on wireless RF networking, but I have noticed a few projects revolving around free space optical transceivers," the poster continues. "Twibright Labs' RONJA [Reasonable Optical Near Joint Access] is a good example of what I'm talking about." Twibright Labs is a handful of undergraduate students studying "Informatics" in Prague. Their RONJA program encourages folk to "Build your own optical data link from common elementary parts." These include: "old toothbrush," "ceramic capacitors," and a "multimeter with transistor amplification coefficient measurement (not mandatory)." Damn! Where we gonna find an old toothbrush?

Besides making homemade optical networking gear, Twibright's other projects include a "lighting system with rechargeable batteries" for bicycles.

"Not being an electronics hobbyist, however, makes the various plans for building a comm laser from scratch look rather daunting," the poster frets.

"It seems to me that it would be easier to just make a lens and housing system into which would go one of the many cheaply available copper-to-fiber media converters. Then you could simply modify it so that the laser ports were optically connected to the TX [transmission] and RX [receive] lens assemblies instead of the standard fiber interface." (Yeah, definitely that Graham Wheeler... or at least a dedicated follower.)

"So, what factor(s) am I overlooking that would explain why nobody seems to be doing this?" the poster asks in conclusion.

Whether a hoax or not, the poster got several replies, only a few of which were combative. One respondent gently pointed out that perhaps buying an 802.11-enabled gadget would be better for around-the-house data transfer than, say, constructing one's own telecom lasers out of spare parts.

Another respondent interpreted the post to be about why a commercial fiber laser could be modified to work in point-to-point applications. "Most freespace [laser] projects involve something a bit more powerful, which allows the laser to punch through smoke and fog a little better," the respondent writes. "I guess if you made the laser powerful enough, it could punch through interference such as pigeons, too."

Alas, yet another sincere discussion about saving a few bucks by building your own optical networking gear has devolved into blasting birds with deadly data.

PETA officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com

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