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The Whole House iPod (Revisited)

About a year ago, we wrote about an incredible new whole-house audio system that is priced (literally) tens of thousands of dollars below the cost of a comparable "turnkey" system that you typically would purchase from a home audio consultant. You can read the rest of the (initial) story toward the end of today’s article. We decided to revisit the World of Sonos because there have been some incredible developments in the last 14 months, and today the company announced a new partnership with Sirius satellite radio. So here’s an update.

For those that are new to Sonos, you basically buy a little $500 Wi-Fi box for each room in your home or office where you want to play music. You plug in a pair of speakers and connect to your NAS-savvy music library. We recommend dLink’s DNS-323 which provides RAID1 mirrored SATA drives in any size you desire (about $180 delivered from NewEgg plus SATA drives). Be sure the drives you pick are on dLink’s compatibility list! If you happen to use Comcast for your broadband service, you also receive a free Rhapsody subscription which can be played (through a Windows PC) on every Sonos system in your house for free. For the rest of you, the Sonos system also supports streaming audio from more than 300 Internet radio stations, also free. And last but not least, beginning today, you can add all of the Sirius radio stations on the planet (80+ channels) to every room in your house for just $2.99 a month assuming you already have Sirius playing away in your car. If not, it’s still only $12.99 a month.

There are few companies in the world (much less the United States) that provide flawless hardware and software, free software updates (that always work), and regular updates that consistently add value to your initial purchase. Sonos is at the top of that very, very short list. Run, don’t walk, to add this system to your home or office. You’ll thank us for years to come. Enjoy!

And, our original article last year went something like this…

We thought we’d digress today and tell you about an incredible whole house audio system. Yes, there’s the iPod for private listening and there are some streaming audio solutions for those that want music in one or two rooms of a home or office. But what if you want music (different music) available in every room of your home. Well, until now, you could look at spending $20,000 to $50,000 for a very proprietary solution such as Elan’s Home Systems. It’s no accident that you won’t find any pricing on their web site.

As luck would have it, we just moved into a new home that was prewired for audio and video in eight rooms including recessed ceiling speakers in all the rooms. While this is an expensive proposition when retrofitting an older home, it’s fairly reasonable during new construction, and many builders now include it as part of the cost of a new house. The gotcha, however, is adding the multi-room amplifier, the audio devices to produce the music, and the touchpanel control units in each room. Can you spell outrageously expensive! In round numbers, you’re looking at $5,000 for installation of a suitable amplifier, $1,500 to $2,500 for each ultra-proprietary touchpanel display, and another $10,000 or more for the audio sources. These include CD jukeboxes, iPods with infrared remote access, a multi-channel XM radio receiver to the tune of $1,500 plus XM radio fees of nearly $30 a month (for three channels) forever, and loads of consulting fees at $100+ an hour. Each of the touchpanels or keypads is manually configured to match the audio components you purchase so that you can switch audio sources, adjust volume, and skip songs in each room. The double-gotcha is that despite having spent tens of thousands of dollars on this system, you have no ability to adjust anything down the road without another $100 an hour service call from the installer. So just pray they’re still around, or you’re basically stuck with your initial setup forever. A $500 magic box is used to configure the touchpanels and keypads, and, NO, you can’t buy one. It’s not sold to consumers, just dealers. Ouch!

You should be getting the picture of why we went shopping for an alternative with a bit more flexibility. That’s when we stumbled upon an incredible product called the Sonos Digital Music System. In a nutshell, you have a self-contained system unit in each room where you want music. It includes an optional amp for connection to a pair of speakers, wired and wireless networking, and a user and streaming audio interface that is as good or better than the iPod. Then you add as many touchpanel control units to select music and music sources as your budget can afford. There are also PC and Mac versions of the touchpanel which won’t cost you a dime. Each touchpanel can control every zone (aka room) in your home. What you don’t need with this system is a house prewired for audio because each unit lets you connect directly to a set of speakers or an external amplifier if desired. You also don’t need a wired network throughout your home. Only one of the Sonos units needs to be connected to a wired network. The rest of the devices automatically configure themselves to communicate wirelessly with the other system units and controllers scattered throughout your home. If you buy the starter pack with two system units including amps and one controller unit, you’re looking at $1,200 which works out to roughly $500 per system unit and about $200 for the controller. That’s roughly one tenth the cost of a functionally similar controller unit from Elan except you can configure the Sonos controller while a dealer has to configure the Elan unit … at $100 an hour.

I feel a little like the guy selling the Ginsu knives on television: "but there’s more." Boy, is there! Not only is the sound of the systems downright incredible (depending upon your speakers, of course), but the variety of available music sources is going to make you want some of these in the morning. Each system unit can stream audio from almost any music source imaginable. This includes MP3’s stored on your PC, Mac, or our latest discovery, a $150 network-attached storage (NAS) device. You also can play Shoutcast streams, either your own or those available for free over the Internet. Another option is to map a file share from a Sonos unit to a Mac or PC. It takes about 10 seconds. Sonos units also can play music from Rhapsody. And, if you’re lucky enough to be a Comcast broadband subscriber like us, a Rhapsody streaming audio subscription with about 50 music channels is yours for free! Just login to your Comcast account and download the Comcast Rhapsody software to any Windows PC. Rhapsody Stations are every bit as good as XM or Sirius channels with one important difference. There’s no additional monthly charge to Comcast customers for as many simultaneous streams as you care to play. That’s quite a contrast from Elan’s three XM streams solution which means three rooms with XM radio and no more … for $30 a month … once you buy your $1,500 Elan XM receiver. With Rhapsody, you won’t need a receiver at all, just an old clunker PC sitting in the corner with the Rhapsody application running. It can be used for other tasks as well. At the moment, we have my daughter’s game PC running Rhapsody with four simultaneous streams playing in seven zones of the house. You can double up zones with the click of a button using any Sonos controller. In addition to all these music sources, you also can connect an old-fashioned analog audio device (like a CD jukebox or an iPod) to each system unit. Music from these sources can be streamed to any combination of rooms you choose, just like traditional Shoutcast streams or Rhapsody stations. The only thing missing with analog device streams is the album art, but it still sounds great.

There are some other reviews of the Sonos system which are worth a look. Check out David Pogue’s article in the New York Times, the Home Theater View, Audioholics, Playlist Magazine, and PC Magazine. Then you’ll want to run, don’t walk, to buy at least one for yourself! You can purchase units from Sonos and most of their dealers with a 30-day money-back guarantee. We installed eight systems with four remotes in just over two hours. We haven’t quit listening since. Now you know why we’re running a little behind on the Asterisk® and TrixBox articles. Enjoy!

Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Introducing the Asterisk WiFi HotSpot Finder

We’re all rested up now that we’ve had a little R&R time. So today we’ve put together an application requested by one of our loyal readers. It’s an Asterisk®-based WiFi HotSpot Locator. All you do is pick up a telephone on your Asterisk system and dial WiFi. Then plug in any U.S. zip code and wait for E-Gor to read you the addresses of the closest Wi-Fi Hot Spots. We initially had planned to include all of the free FON hot spots, but their database is going to take a little work to get it into proper shape for use in this application. So we decided to save the FON hot spots for version 2. In the meantime, there’s a terrific (meaning free) WAP service for cellphone users at wap.4info.net that works quite well for our purposes today. As with some of our other software, this application is provided as an educational tool to teach you how to write Asterisk AGI scripts, and it should only be used for personal, non-commercial purposes.

We’ve previously covered the basics of writing a PHP script that can be used by Asterisk to retrieve data over the Internet. All of our weather applications perform this magic. So the only trick today was parsing results to determine whether a WiFi Hot Spot was commercial or free. That matters to some folks… like us. So when you set up the Asterisk WiFi HotSpot Finder, you can configure it to retrieve only free hotspots, only commercial hotspots, or all hotspots. As installed, you get the kitchen sink. Simply adjust the $PayWiFi and $FreeWiFi flags if you prefer a different list. As was true with the Nerd Vittles Weather Applications, you also need to add a chunk of code to the extensions_custom or extensions_trixbox config file and restart Asterisk. Then you’ll be off to the races. Pick up a phone on your system and dial 9434 ("WiFi"). When prompted for a zip code, key in a 5-digit zip code. After a brief pause, Flite will read you the names and addresses of up to 10 Wi-Fi Hot Spots at or near the zip code you entered. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Rather than repeat the entire tutorial here, we’ve posted the complete documentation including the code on our Best of Nerd Vittles site which has a much more flexible and intuitive interface for documenting applications. Enjoy!

The Year of Flash. If you’re a slow learner like us, be glad you waited until now to tackle Adobe’s Flash technology. The unbelievably simple tools that are now available to build Flash applications are nothing short of mind-boggling. We’ve been prototyping some of this technology for a new neighborhood web site. Have a look at this link, and click around the various Flash applets. We built it all from nothing in UNDER 3 HOURS! They look almost as good as Apple’s Dashboard Widgets except they’ll run on any platform: Windows, Mac, or Linux. All you need is a current web browser with a Flash Player to run these babies. Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari all work just fine. If you want to do a little experimenting, here’s the deal of the year. The best flash tools on the planet are made by CoffeeCup Software. A close runner-up is Amara Software. You can visit their sites and get free demos to try out. Then you can buy all the tools from CoffeeCup for about $700 or from Amara for $129… or you can sign up for a year of hosting with Lunarpages and get every single CoffeeCup application for free. And, just so you don’t feel totally ripped off by the one-year web hosting fee of $84, Lunarpages throws in support for 10 domains, 250 gigs of storage space, 2.5 terabytes of monthly bandwidth, and a free domain registration for as long as you host with them. Use the coupon code blog25 when you sign up to save an additional $25. That makes the total cost $59 for all you math wizards. Our site link to the Flash Widgets is actually hosted at Lunarpages so you can judge the performance for yourself. If you want them to back up your data every night and restore any or all files from a backup at any time, add another whopping $1.50 a month. Yes, we get a spiff if you sign up using our link. Sure beats clicking on the Donate button, doesn’t it? And, if you happen to work in a K/12 school, the deal is even sweeter: the web hosting is free and so are five of the very best CoffeeCup Software applications. Now go learn something new or, better yet, teach it to a kid!

Nerd Vittles Demo Hot Line (courtesy of les.net). You now can take a number of Nerd Vittles projects for a test drive… by phone! The current demos include (1) MailCall for Asterisk with password 1111 (retrieve your email by phone), (2) NewsClips for Asterisk (latest news headlines in dozens of categories), (3) Weather Forecasts by U.S. Airport Code, and (4) Weather Forecasts by U.S. ZIP Code. You’re not prompted for #4 yet, but it does work! Just call our number (shown in the left margin) and take any or all of them for a spin. The sound quality may not be perfect due to performance limitations of our ancient Intel 386 demo machine. But the price is right.

Nerd Vittles Fan Club Map. Thanks for visiting! We hope you’ll take a second and add yourself to our Frappr World Map compliments of Google. In making your entry, you can choose an icon: guy, gal, nerd, or geek. For those that don’t know the difference in the last two, here’s the best definition we’ve found: "a nerd is very similar to a geek, but with more RAM and a faster modem." We’re always looking for the best BBQ joints on the planet. So, if you know of one, add it to the map while you’re visiting as well.

Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Hacker’s Dream Machine: Introducing the Best Gadget of the Year And It’s Not From Apple

Attention Toy Junkies and Hackers: Imagine a 14 ounce device the size of a five pound bag of sugar with a self-contained Wi-Fi server, web server, streaming audio player, MP3 player, RSS Feed fetcher, email reader, voice recognition, built-in RFID proximity detection, text-to-speech and speech-to-text capabilities and... wiggly ears, a VoIP belly button, a speaker, and blinking lights all over the place. It's a bird, it's a plane. No, it's a Nabaztag/tag. With a name like that, you know it has to be good. Nabaztag actually is the Armenian word for rabbit. And the Nabaztag/tag is the second generation of Violet's infamous WiFi Bunny... from France no less.

For those of you thinking about one of these fine critters as a Valentine's gift, let me just offer up a quote from someone near and dear to me: "If you'd gotten me one of those stupid bunnies for Valentine's, you'd be sleeping in your car." Yes, much to the chagrin of the Little Mrs., we've spent an entire week playing with Pat the Nerd. And, with the help of a number of similarly misguided souls from around the world, we've managed to turn this rabbit, uh, on its ear. Or is it the other way around? You see Pat costs $179 at ThinkGeek. But there's more to it. Violet, the bunny's proud inventor, is also proud of their connection service. Beginning Valentine's Day, Violet has a special surprise for bunny lovers. They'd like every bunny owner to pony up $6.95 a month (forever) to keep your bunny hopping. No more animal jokes, we promise! There still will be some free services such as time and weather information. And Violet will still let your bunny receive a whopping 14 15 messages a month. That's almost a whole 30-second message every couple of days! But, after that, it's Pay Per View time. Believe it or not, there already are hundreds of thousands of Nabaztags in the homes of our European friends. But the bunny lovers of the world are in for a little surprise in a couple weeks. Happy Valentines! Heh, heh.

Well, that was last week. Several projects have been underway for months on SourceForge to unearth the bunny's innermost secrets. They quickly discovered that the first generation bunnies had a severe limitation because of an extremely proprietary sound chip. The second gen Nabaztag/tag resolves that by supporting playback of industry-standard sound files. The other problem with the SourceForge projects was the Hobson's Choice of an either-or bunny. You could either connect to Violet's servers and enjoy their offerings, or you could venture out on your own by creating your own applications using your own server. Thanks to Olivier Azeau, you now can have your cake and eat it, too. In addition to being an adept PHP programmer, Olivier also happens to like bunnies. So he began the OpenNab project on SourceForge to build a PHP-driven Nabaztag/tag proxy. Just as the name implies, it transforms the WiFi Rabbit into an open source platform while maintaining your existing connection to the Mother Ship. Stated another way, by using the OpenNab proxy, you don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, you get the best of both worlds: all of the free Nabaztag services from Violet plus all of the free open source apps that the rest of us can dream up. And, if you want to subscribe to Violet's monthly service plan, you can do that as well. It also opens the door for competitive server platforms to support the Nabaztag/tag for those that have no interest in building and supporting a server just to trick out your dumb bunny.

That, of course, is where a TrixBox Asterisk® server comes into play. In addition to getting a first-rate (free) PBX that will run on Linux, a Mac, or Windows (download links at top of the page), you now have the perfect platform for the OpenNab proxy. For our non-Asterisk readers, you don't have to use a TrixBox server to make all of this work... if you don't mind wrestling with Linux. Or, for the Windows platform, you might want to try WAMP5. The beauty of installing one of our TrixBox servers for the Mac or Windows platform is that you don't have to have a dedicated Linux server. You can run the TrixBox server in a window on your desktop, and you never need to touch the PBX if you don't want to. In short, a TrixBox server is an ideal development platform for projects such as this because all of the tools you'll need are already integrated into a turnkey appliance. In addition to a fairly complete Linux toolkit, it also includes an Apache web server with PHP and a voice synthesizer called Flite right out of the box so there's nothing to install... except OpenNab. We'll walk you through that installation, and we'll provide a couple of our reworked open source applications for your OpenNab-energized Bunny to get you started: weather reports for every U.S. city and a Yahoo Headline News Feed Reader. Then you can rip into our code and contribute some applications of your own to the cause. A few have already been contributed, and we'll post those on our new Wabbit Vittles web site in the next few days.

OpenNab Prerequisites. As mentioned, you'll need a server platform that includes a web server with PHP 4.4.3 or later and CURL, a text-to-speech voice synthesizer such as Flite (free) or Cepstral ($30), and an encoding utility in order to get much use out of the OpenNab proxy. The free TrixBox appliances include everything you'll need to get started.

Downloading OpenNab. Once you have your web server with PHP and CURL running, you're ready to install OpenNab. Start by downloading the OpenNab Proxy application from SourceForge. Unzip the file, and you'll have a folder named opennab with a version number. We're assuming it's 0.04, or some of the fixes below may not be necessary. There are several tricks to getting OpenNab installed and working reliably. We're going to walk through the TrixBox installation scenario. It's also possible to run this on a dedicated Linux machine or through a Linux hosting provider site, but it's considerably more complex to get all the pieces working as you'll quickly discover if you decide to try it. We've put up a demo system through our hosting provider, BlueHost, just to show it's possible. BlueHost incidentally happens to be the best AND the cheapest hosting provider on the planet if you ever have a need. Regardless of which route you take or even if you roll your own server, be aware that the two folders (vl and broad) both have to be copied into the root directory of your web server.

OpenNab Installation and Setup. In the case of a TrixBox installation, copy the vl and broad folders into var/www/html which is the web server's home directory. If you're using a hosting provider, copy the two directories into your root web folder, usually www or public_html with cPanel systems. Instead of Apache redirect commands, OpenNab uses ErrorDocument redirection to reroute traffic from Violet's servers to your OpenNab Proxy. So, if they don't already exist, create a .htaccess file in both the vl and broad folders: nano -w .htaccess after logging into your server as root (for TrixBox) or your accountname (for hosted servers) and changing to the proper directory.

In the vl folder, make sure you have the following line in a .htaccess file. This was missing in version 0.02 :

ErrorDocument 404 /vl/bc.php

In the broad folder, the following line should appear in .htaccess:

ErrorDocument 404 /vl/media.php

Next we need to modify the Apache config file on your TrixBox server so that it allows .htaccess commands to override Apache defaults at the directory level. This isn't required on most hosted systems since they already allow directory-level overrides. While still logged in as root on your TrixBox server, edit the Apache config file: nano -w /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf. Press Ctrl-W and search for AllowOverride None. Press Enter to execute the search. Leave this entry alone. Now press Ctrl-W and Enter again. Change this entry to AllowOverride All. What this does is allow .htaccess overrides on the /var/www/html directory and its subdirectories which is what we want since that's the root directory for the web server. Save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter. Then restart Apache: apachectl restart.

Regardless of your server type, we need to create a few new folders to make sure OpenNab can successfully pass its startup tests. Just issue the following commands while logged in as root:

cd /var/www/html/vl/plugins/files_simpleplay (NOTE: Version 0.03 and 0.02 stored these files in /var/www/html/broad)
mkdir 0
cd 0
mkdir 1
cd 1
mkdir 2
cd 2
mkdir 3
cd 3
touch 4.mp3

If you're using a hosting provider, you can ignore this step. On TrixBox servers, the web service runs as user asterisk unlike other Linux systems. We need to adjust the permissions on the folders we installed to be sure this user can read, write, and execute in these directory trees. So issue the following commands while logged in as root:

cd /var/www/html
chown -R asterisk:root vl
chown -R asterisk:root broad

Finally, regardless of your server type, there was a little bug in version 0.02 that occurred if you happened to enter the MAC address of your bunny in upper case letters. This is fixed in version 0.03 and 0.04, but if you have the 0.02 version here's the patch:

cd /var/www/html/vl/includes
nano -w burrow.php

Once the editor opens, cursor down to line 45 and add the strtolower function to the existing line so that the new line looks like this:

$this->fileName = 'burrows/'.strtolower($serialNumber);

Save your change: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Securing OpenNab. We highly recommend using a TrixBox server or some other Linux server behind a firewall for this project. Running OpenNab on the public Internet with or without a hosting provider adds all sorts of security implications. At a minimum, there are some changes we recommend you make to lessen the opportunity for abuse from outsiders. Insert index.php documents in the folders that don't already have such a document. Here's what each index.php document should look like:

echo " ";

The second tip is don't activate the logging feature in vl/config.php because it will compromise the MAC addresses of every rabbit that connects through your server... unless you password protect the vl/logs directory. Finally, remove the phpinfo.php file from vl/tests once you complete your testing as this reveals all sorts of information to someone that may be attempting to break into your server.

Testing Your Nabaztag/tag. There are two tests you need to perform to make sure your Apache server, PHP, and CURL are operating properly. Using a web browser, go to the following links using the IP address or fully qualified domain name of your OpenNab Proxy:

http://my.domain.com/vl/foobar should return: ERROR 404 from OpenNab
http://my.domain.com/vl/tests/ should return: 48 passes, 0 fails and 0 exceptions with a Green Bar

Configuring Your Nabaztag/tag to Use OpenNab. Once you've passed the testing with flying colors, it's time to activate the OpenNab Proxy. Step 1: Get your tag/tag functioning reliably with Violet's server first. If you need help, here's a link. Before connecting through OpenNab, you'll also need to write down either the IP address of your TrixBox server on your internal LAN or a fully-qualified domain name that points to your web site on the Internet if you're using a hosting provider. So the syntax for the entry you're about to make should look like one of the following using your correct IP address or domain name:
wabbitvittles.com/vl (This one actually works if you'd just like to try things out without installing any software.)

Once you have your entry in hand, unplug your rabbit. Press and hold down the top button and reconnect power to your rabbit. As soon as all four front lights turn blue, release the button. This usually occurs in less than one second if you have an Internet connection. If you hold the button down too long after the lights turn blue, you'll need to start over. Now count slowly to twenty. From a wireless PC or Mac on the same subnet as your rabbit, open the Wireless Networking window and select Nabaztagnn as your WiFi host. The nn will match the last two numbers of the MAC address on the bottom of your rabbit. Count to twenty again and then open the following page with a web browser: Click on Click Here to Start link. When the next page displays, click Advanced Configuration. You shouldn't have to change anything except the very bottom entry on the form which reads r.nabaztag.com/vl. Replace that entry with the entry you wrote down above and Save your change. This will reboot your bunny, disconnect you from the wireless connection, and restart your bunny using the OpenNab Proxy. Now is a good time to reconnect your PC or Mac to a functioning wireless network! The lights on your bunny will start out orange and then should turn green and go away after the bunny wiggles his ears. When properly connected, you'll have the glowing purple light on the bottom of the bunny and no other lights lit... just as you had when connected directly to Violet's server. Congratulations! You now have an operational OpenNab Proxy.

But What Can It Do? If you'd like to try all of this through our OpenNab Proxy first, then go through the configuration step above using wabbitvittles.com/vl as your proxy address. Once your bunny springs to life, here's a simple test to make sure everything's working. Write down the MAC address of your bunny. Then open a web browser and go to the following link substituting the MAC address of your bunny for the string of zeros, of course. You can also pick any other city and state in the United States... as long as they really exist. This demo system uses Cepstral's Diane 8kHz English voice. There are many others available. You can try them out here.


The Cepstral voices on our demo site are nice, but we don't find them to be appreciably better than the default voice installed with Flite. Flite also happens to be free and is bundled in the TrixBox servers we recommend. There's also the hassle of finding a conversion utility to get the text into a format that your bunny can decipher. All of these tools come preconfigured on the TrixBox systems. Hint!

OpenNab Applications. We're going to contribute several OpenNab applications to get you started today. Before you can use them, you'll need a TrixBox server or a garden-variety Linux server if you know what you're doing. If you roll your own, install Flite or Cepstral to handle text-to-speech conversion and a conversion tool to get the files into a format your bunny can decipher. You can look through the last couple dozen lines of code in the applications to figure out what you need.

Cepstral Installation. The only trick to installing Cepstral is choosing a good voice. We've had better luck with the "telephone voices" which are 8kHz, but you can try out all of them here. We'd recommend you begin by downloading the Diane-8kHz voice for Linux and get it working first. You don't have to buy it unless you like it! Once you download it, log into your TrixBox/Linux system as root, and issue the following commands using the voice name associated with your download:

mkdir /nerdvitt
mkdir /cepstral
cd /cepstral
[copy your download into the /cepstral folder now]
gunzip Cepstral_Diane-8kHz_i386-linux_4.1.4.tar.gz
tar xvsf Cep*
cd Cepstral_Diane-8kHz_i386-linux_4.1.4

When prompted for the installation path, use /nerdvitt. Just to make sure you have a link to the application in your path, execute the following command:

ln -s "/nerdvitt/bin/swift" /usr/local/bin/swift

When you decide to buy a license ($30), you'll get an activation key. You activate it by issuing the following command (while logged in as root!) and filling in the blanks using the same name you used when you purchased the license:

swift --reg-voice -n Diane-8kHz

Installing OpenNab Applications. First, you'll need to download the desired applications. Assuming you want all of them, just execute the following commands after logging into your TrixBox server as root:

cd /var/www/html/vl/api_demo
wget http://wabbitvittles.com/applications/weather-opennab.zip
wget http://wabbitvittles.com/applications/news-opennab.zip
unzip weather-opennab.zip
unzip news-opennab.zip

Once you've unzipped the files, you'll need to edit each .php file to configure it. For the weather, edit the following file: nano -w opennab-weather.php. The configuration changes begin at line 37:

if (strlen($city)==0) :
$city="Charleston, South Carolina";
endif ;
if (strlen($SN)==0) :
$SN = "000000000000";
endif ;
$UseCepstral=false ;
$voice="Diane-8kHz" ;

Choose a default city to replace Charleston, South Carolina, e.g. Atlanta,GA is fine for the syntax. Enter the serial number ($SN) of your rabbit to replace 000000000000. If you're using a TrixBox server, the $WebRoot and $BinRoot entries are fine. These are the root directory of your web server and the location of the Cepstral executable. Replace the $ProxyAddress entry of with the IP address fully-qualified domain name of your TrixBox/Linux server. If you plan to use Flite for speech synthesis, nothing else needs to be changed. If you're using Cepstral, change $UseCepstral=false to $UseCepstral=true. Don't delete the semicolon at the end of the line! If you're not using the Diane-8kHz voice with Cepstral, enter the file name of your voice surrounded by quotation marks. Save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Now edit the opennab-news.php file: nano -w opennab-news.php. Beginning at line 18, you'll find the configuration settings:

if (strlen($category)==0) :
endif ;
if (strlen($SN)==0) :
$SN = "000000000000";
endif ;
$UseCepstral=false ;
$voice="Diane-8kHz" ;

Choose a default news category to replace topstories. Available choices include: topstories, us, world, iraq, world, mideast, politics, business, health, science, technology, showbiz, mostviewed, mostemailed, mostblogged, highestrated, adventures, obits, hotzone, nasashuttle, sept11, oped, oddlyenough, and many others. Here's the complete list of Yahoo RSS Feeds. Enter the serial number ($SN) of your rabbit to replace 000000000000. If you're using a TrixBox server, the $WebRoot and $BinRoot entries are fine. These are the root directory of your web server and the location of the Cepstral executable. Replace the $ProxyAddress entry of with the IP address fully-qualified domain name of your TrixBox/Linux server. If you plan to use Flite for speech synthesis, nothing else needs to be changed. If you're using Cepstral, change $UseCepstral=false to $UseCepstral=true. Don't delete the semicolon at the end of the line! If you're not using the Diane-8kHz voice with Cepstral, enter the file name of your voice surrounded by quotation marks. Save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

Running the Weather Application. There are several ways to run each of these new applications. The weather application can be activated using a web browser using the IP address of your TrixBox/Linux server:,SC

The application also can be run from the Linux command line after logging into your server as root:

php /var/www/html/vl/api_demo/opennab-weather.php city=Charleston,SC

Using the command line syntax, you also can schedule the application to run automatically at various times of the day using a crontab entry. For example, the following entry could be added to /etc/crontab to kick off a weather bunny report at 29 minutes after the hour beginning at 6:29 a.m. until 8:29 p.m. every day:

29 6-20 * * * root /etc/weather.sh

For the /etc/weather.sh script, simply copy the above line to the script and make it executable:

echo php /var/www/html/vl/api_demo/opennab-weather.php city=Charleston,SC > /etc/weather.sh
chmod +x /etc/weather.sh

Running the News Application. The Yahoo News application can be run in much the same way. It could be activated using a web browser using the IP address of your TrixBox/Linux server:

The application also could be run from the Linux command line after logging into your server as root:

php /var/www/html/vl/api_demo/opennab-news.php category=topstories

Using the command line syntax, you also could schedule the application to run automatically at various times of the day using a crontab entry. For example, the following entry could be added to /etc/crontab to kick off a news bunny report at 1 minute after the hour beginning at 6:01 a.m. until 8:01 p.m. every day:

01 6-20 * * * root /etc/news.sh

For the /etc/news.sh script, simply copy the above line to the script and make it executable:

echo php /var/www/html/vl/api_demo/opennab-news.php category=topstories > /etc/news.sh
chmod +x /etc/news.sh

Finding the Latest Nabaztag Applications. Well, that should get you started with OpenNab. And we'll be adding more and more applications in the weeks ahead as others begin to contribute as well. It seemed a fitting time to dedicate a new web site to our non-furry friend so... Welcome to Wabbit Vittles. If you have a contribution to add, just send us a message, and we'll be glad to host it for you. You'll also want to check out the terrific new Nabaztalk Forums for late-breaking tips and tricks. Enjoy!

FON.com WiFi Router Giveaway for $5 Ends Wednesday

FON.comFor those that have been sleeping under a rock these past few months, you may not have heard of a little company called FON Technology which has been seeding the world with low-cost WiFi hotspots by giving virtually anyone with a broadband connection a dual port WiFi router for $5 U.S. or €5 in Europe. If you were lucky enough to be in San Francisco last week, all you had to do was show up to get a free one. The router provides a private, secure WiFi network for your home or office while providing a public port for others to use at little or no cost.

Those who install the FONera WiFi router get a choice of getting half the $3 per day proceeds for each user that connects through their router or getting free WiFi access through all other FONera routers throughout the world. There currently are over 100,000 routers deployed. Over 4,000 more were ordered just last week. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, despite substantial venture capital funding recently from Google and Skype, FON has decided to discontinue the €/$5 program. Beginning November 8, the price of the Wi-Fi routers will increase to $29.95 in the USA and 29 euros in Europe. So here’s your technology hint for this week: ORDER YOUR €/$5 FON ROUTER by visiting their web site. And do it NOW! If you snooze, you lose on this one.

The router is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and has excellent range. We ordered one last week and received it in a couple days. Installation was a snap. And it works as advertised. For Mac users, you will need the latest Airport firmware to use the private network. You can even download the source code for use on other Openwrt-compatible routers if that’s your thing. For a map of currently deployed FON routers around the world, click here. For additional information, visit WiFi Net News or c|net or GigaOM.

Deploying Voice Over Wi-Fi with Asterisk


Getting Wi-Fi to play nice is another one of those grammatically incorrect, but thorny Linux problems that Asterisk® inherits because of its roots. In the Windows and Mac worlds, we've become accustomed to plug-and-play for things like Wi-Fi USB sticks, but it ain't that easy with Linux unfortunately. Once you get the right device, this project will take you less than 30 minutes to complete. But we've invested almost a week getting everything to work ... so you won't have to. If the Linux community ever wants to see Linux used as a desktop PC, this piece of the puzzle needs some work! Even with the correct hardware and drivers, there is virtually nothing available on either the net or in the 1,000 page Linux tomes that makes this project simple. Admittedly, we're anything but Linux gurus, but we can read. And it shouldn't be this hard to find the answer to the following simple question: how do I set up a WiFi connection on my Linux box. Now that we know how, we would hasten to add that you shouldn't have to bury code in numerous obscure places in the operating system and issue dozens of unintelligible Linux commands to make a Wi-Fi adapter come to life! So, why do it, you might be asking. Keep reading, and we'll get to that.

Who needs it? Anyone in the emergency preparedness and continuity of operations business oughta have a WiFi PBX in their suitcase! Can you spell K-A-T-R-I-N-A. And if you or your organization wants the flexibility of an instant, high performance telephone system on a moment's notice, then WiFi is a must-have. Ever been to a convention with your entire office but didn't want to leave all your phones behind? Now you don't have to. Using Wi-Fi IP phones, this entire phone system can be deployed WITH NO WIRES using a battery-operated notebook computer or, better yet, a small-footprint PC (see inset) plugged in to a $200 generator or a low-cost UPS if electricity is flowing. And someday we may get Asterisk running on our Nokia 770, but not this year.

What to Use. The easiest solution for Voice Over Wi-Fi is a WiFi USB stick and an Asterisk@Home server. Why USB? Because you can use it with almost any modern PC on the planet without having to install a card in the machine. There are now close to two dozen different WiFi sticks available at stores such as CompUSA, MicroCenter, and Fry's. The only problem is the scarcity of Linux drivers for ALL of them. Luckily, there is one chipset that works without a dog-slow Windows driver emulator (such as ndiswrapper): the ZD1211 chipset. Both the Safecom SWLU-5400 and SWLUZ-5400 have this chipset. The real beauty of this USB adapter is that it can function as a host in an Ad Hoc Wi-Fi network, or it can be configured in Infrastructure Mode to take advantage of an existing Wi-Fi access point serving as a Master. The device also can be configured as a Master or Repeater and supports both WEP and WPA encryption as well as 802.11B and G. Bottom line: This WiFi stick has the flexibility to function in virtually any type of existing or newly created Linux Wi-Fi network. That was our theory anyway. Read on.

Where to find one. Finding the right product turned out to be the easy part. If you're in the U.S, the more difficult task is finding a USB adapter with this chipset. In Europe, they're a dime a dozen. While they are FCC approved and include a chipset manufactured by Texas Instruments, they're almost impossible to find stateside. One possible source is eBay. Search for Safecom USB WiFi and be sure to check the Search title and description box. There's almost always at least one for sale. If not, check back in a day or two or request an email when one is listed. With shipping, you should be able to find one from various U.K. distributors for about $30. Be sure the ad states that the product uses the ZD1211 chipset, or you're wasting your money. NEWS FLASH: IOgear now makes the GWU523 which reportedly has the same chipset (although we have not actually tested one). Here's the PriceGrabber link of sources. One that we now have tested with the same chipset is AirLink's AWLL3026 which is on sale this week at Fry's or Outpost.com. If you get in a crunch and can't find one, contact us. We have a few spares (not on sale) that were used only to verify that they worked.

Wi-Fi Deployment Issues. There are many ways to deploy a Wi-Fi network and adding an Asterisk PBX to the mix just multiplies the number of available choices. To keep things simple, we've chosen what we believe is the easiest approach, but your needs may vary so we'll point out other options as we go along. We're assuming you have an Asterisk@Home 2.2 server already running because it's the easiest way to deploy Asterisk on the Linux platform. CentOS/4 is built right in. Here's our 90-minute step-by-step guide if you need it. We're also assuming you have a WiFi access point or router (802.11B or 802.11G) already in place and working with at least one wireless device. If not, start there and come back.

Our Wi-Fi lab (aka home) and test server for this project may or may not be typical. The PC is an EZgo which is roughly the size of a Mac mini or about 4 stacked CD cases (see inset above). You can see the USB stick hanging out the back of it. It's only about 2 inches long. And, yes, I hear someone asking, "Why not just use a Mac mini?" The short answer is that, while Asterisk runs on the Mac, it's no walk in the park. And, by the time you build a Mac system with the tools bundled in Asterisk@Home and get them all talking to each other, even my kids may be out of college. Let's just say you will quickly come to appreciate the real beauty of Asterisk@Home. For another painful approach to building a small-footprint Asterisk system, check out Tom's Networking. No, thanks.

We have a fairly large house so we have a WiFi router at one end and a Wi-Fi access point at the other. The two devices are hard-wired together with a 100 megabit, CAT5 network cable so they're both on the same network segment: through Several dozen devices are scattered around the various rooms on the three levels of the house to keep me entertained but mostly to keep me out of the Little Mrs. hair. A burglar's paradise, you might be saying ... well, yes, except we'd get your picture on the way in and out.

The ESSID on both WiFi Masters is the same: MundyLANd. You need this setup for moving around a large WiFi network. The trick is that one unit operates on WiFi channel 1 while the other is set to channel 11. That way the signals don't step on one another, and your client device has the smarts to transparently switch from one access point to the other when it needs to... much like cellphones moving between cellphone towers. For purposes of this article, we will assume that your devices operate with 128-bit WEP encryption since it's the easiest to configure. Note: We didn't say WEP was secure. We just said it was easy to configure.

In the middle of the house, we have a new addition from Santa, a Sony wireless TV that operates as a Master on WiFi channel 6. We'll have more to say about it in a future column. And, yes, we still hate Sony after their rootkit fiasco! But Santa didn't know any better, and who are we to turn down free toys. Why is it that Sony never acted this way until an American took over the top job at the company? I'm sure our European and Asian readers will have a quick answer.

For now, what you need to know is that our home maxes out ALL of the existing U.S. WiFi channels, much to the chagrin of our closest neighbors. Because of the overlap between Wi-Fi channels, the only practical channels to deploy are 1, 6, and 11. This becomes important for this project because we want to make sure the new Linux Wi-Fi dongle plays nicely by not using an intermediate channel or, worse yet, the Sony WiFi channel (6) which doesn't provide access to the Internet without knowing a different ESSID and password, both of which are about as long as your arm.

The reason for this lengthy diatribe was to lay the groundwork to get you thinking Wi-Fi, and it also exposed the only technical wrinkle we observed in this project. When configured in Managed mode, the Safecom USB WiFi adapter is supposed to seek out the nearest access point and set itself to that channel. It doesn't. Our experience using this Linux driver with CentOS/4 which is bundled with Asterisk@Home 2.2 has been that this rarely works as it should. The channel selection appears to be almost totally random. When the device sets itself up on the wrong channel, all sorts of ugly things can happen. For openers, you probably won't get the network connectivity you expect. Many of the Macs and PCs in our house couldn't talk to the WiFi-enabled Asterisk box until we got the adapter correctly set to the channel of the nearest WiFi Master, channel 1 in our case. Obviously, if the device configured itself for Channel 6 or a nearby channel, we were out of luck ever talking to the box. That turned out to be a headache, but we'll show you a little discovery we made that makes it less painful. Just be aware that this may be a manual drill each time you reboot the WiFi Asterisk server or move it (not often, if you're smart!). We've had much worse luck with Windows PCs and WiFi devices over the years, so this really wasn't a deal breaker in our book. Connectivity works. The Linux driver works. Encryption works. And the phones ring. Those were the critical pieces in this puzzle from our perspective. Now on with the countdown!

Downloading the Linux WiFi Driver. After obtaining the hardware device, the next step is finding a Linux driver for it. There happen to be two, and someday when our hair grows back, we may try the other one. In the meantime, you'll need the Linux zd1211 driver which is available from SoureForge. Just find the site closest to you and download the compressed tarball from here. Here's where you'll find the other one just in case someone else enjoys water torture. Wasn't that easy? Well, not so fast.

Once you unzip and untar the driver bundle (tar -zxvf zd1211-XXXX.tar.gz), you'll find a README file which is actually pretty good. It only leaves out one little thing: the device name of the WiFi dongle on your Linux box. The answer is wlan0 (that's a zero on the end) so write it down. You're going to need it ... a lot!

Compiling and Installing the WiFi Driver. Now we're getting to the fun part. We're assuming you will be installing this on a freshly installed Asterisk@Home 2.2 system built using the ISO image. You can read all about how to do that here. Will it work with another version of Asterisk@Home? Maybe. Try it. Heh heh! This isn't the Windows or Mac world so drivers have to be compiled for the Linux box on which you wish to run the software using the Linux kernel that was in place when you compiled the software. So, here's gotcha #1. If you ever get an updated kernel with CentOS/4 (as you will when you run yum -y update after installing Asterisk@Home 2.2), you will need to repeat this drill and recompile and reinstall the driver. HINT: Run yum -y update on your Asterisk@Home 2.2 server before continuing! Now you see why Linux folks aren't overly enthusiastic about kernel upgrades.

To begin the WiFi driver install, just rename the downloaded driver folder from SourceForge to zd1211 and copy it to a safe place on your Linux machine while logged in as root, e.g. /root works great. Now switch to that folder (cd /root/zd1211) and issue the following commands to compile and install the driver:

make install

Once this finishes, you'll need to manually load the driver. The README has some pretty good hints about this, but no cigar. Finding the correct answer requires that you first know the question to ask: find / -name *zd1211*.ko. This tells us where to find the little cream puff we want to load. Keep in mind that the "answer" will be different each time the Linux kernel version changes. If you're not running 2.6.9-22.0.1.EL, then this won't work. So how do you know which kernel you're running? Just type this simple (but obscure) command: uname -a. Now let's load the USB driver:

insmod /lib/modules/2.6.9-22.0.1.EL/net/zd1211_mod.ko

Once you've loaded the driver, we need to be sure it really, really is loaded: lsmod | more. Just scroll down the list with the enter key until you see an entry that starts with zd1211. Then press q to quit lsmod.

zd1211_mod 191876 0

Are we there yet? Why no, we're just getting started. Isn't Linux fun!

Firing Up the Wi-Fi Adapter. Actually, we're closer to being finished than you may have thought. There are just a couple more steps. We want to manually make sure things are working. Then we'll need to configure Linux to automatically load the WiFi driver each time you reboot your system. You'll find it's easier to get the kinks out of network drivers by first doing things manually, and then recording what you've done for posterity. For openers, you'll need an IP address for this WiFi adapter. That address obviously needs to be on the same subnet as the access point with which it will be communicating. For purposes of this example, we've chosen on the subnet of our WiFi router which has IP address YMMV. You also need to know some other things such as the subnet mask, the router's IP address, and an IP address for your DNS (name) server, but we'll get to that. Once you've chosen an IP address, let's fire up the adapter and then check to be sure it's running:

ifconfig wlan0
ifconfig | more

You should get a response that looks something like this:

lo Link encap:Local Loopback
inet addr: Mask:
inet6 addr: ::1/128 Scope:Host
RX packets:12146 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:12146 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:0
RX bytes:985362 (962.2 KiB) TX bytes:985362 (962.2 KiB)

wlan0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 00:E0:98:F2:BB:40
inet addr: Bcast: Mask:
inet6 addr: fe80::2e0:98ff:fef2:bb40/64 Scope:Link
RX packets:10638 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:3483 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
RX bytes:1301983 (1.2 MiB) TX bytes:335569 (327.7 KiB)

You'll see that wlan0 is in the list, and it has the IP address that we assigned. That's good news. You'll also note that there is no eth0 device shown even though our machine has an Ethernet adapter built into it. This is another little gotcha to keep in mind. Make sure, if your box has an internal Ethernet adapter, that you configure the main adapter to use DHCP to obtain its address. You do this by issuing the command netconfig and using the space bar to choose Use Dynamic IP Configuration. Then tab to OK and press Enter. The reason for this is very important. Lots of Linux software makes the assumption that eth0 is the default network adapter if it happens to be running. So we want to make sure it isn't running by unplugging the Ethernet cable before booting the machine. If you have a fixed IP address for eth0, then it will load eth0 whether a cable is connected or not. If you configure eth0 for DHCP, then eth0 will not be loaded unless an IP address can be obtained from a DHCP server. With the cable unplugged, you're pretty safe. So, if your machine is showing an eth0 device, reconfigure eth0 for DHCP, and reboot the machine. Then reissue the ifconfig command after logging back in as root. When your display shows two network devices like ours (loopback and wlan0), you're ready to proceed. Another clue: When Asterisk@Home starts up and you log in to your server, it normally tells you the IP address for accessing the Asterisk Management Portal using a web browser. This gets broken when you're using a Wi-Fi adapter that isn't on eth0 because Andrew's setup is merely regurgitating the IP address of eth0. Don't worry! It still works when you enter the correct IP address of your WiFi adapter.

Configuring the WiFi Adapter for Your Wi-Fi Network. Now that we have the WiFi adapter running, we'd like it to communicate with the WiFi network in our home or office. You obviously have to have a WiFi network up and running in your home or office for this to work. But we'll assume you've taken care of that little detail. 25+ years in the technology business has taught me to restate the obvious once in a while just in case something isn't quite as obvious to others. What we'll need now is the name of your WiFi network, the ESSID. And we need to know the channel on which your nearest WiFi access point is broadcasting. Finally, we need a way to identify this access point if you have more than one. Lucky for us, there's a Linux command that will tell us everything except your WiFi WEP password if you're using WEP encryption on your wireless LAN (you are using some sort of encryption, aren't you?).

iwlist wlan0 scanning

You'll get a result that looks something like the following:

wlan0 Scan completed :
Cell 01 - Address: 00:06:25:55:C4:E3
Frequency:2.412GHz (Channel 1)
Quality:68/92 Signal level=54/154 Noise level=0/154
Encryption key:on
Bit Rate:1Mb/s
Bit Rate:2Mb/s
Bit Rate:5.5Mb/s
Bit Rate:11Mb/s

Cell 02 - Address: 00:01:4A:10:EE:60
Frequency:2.437GHz (Channel 6)
Quality:4/92 Signal level=35/154 Noise level=0/154
Encryption key:on
Bit Rate:1Mb/s
Bit Rate:2Mb/s
Bit Rate:5.5Mb/s
Bit Rate:11Mb/s
Bit Rate:6Mb/s
Bit Rate:9Mb/s
Bit Rate:12Mb/s
Bit Rate:18Mb/s
Bit Rate:24Mb/s
Bit Rate:36Mb/s
Bit Rate:48Mb/s
Bit Rate:54Mb/s

Cell 03 - Address: 00:09:5B:2A:A2:AC
Frequency:2.462GHz (Channel 11)
Quality:4/92 Signal level=36/154 Noise level=0/154
Encryption key:on
Bit Rate:1Mb/s
Bit Rate:2Mb/s
Bit Rate:5.5Mb/s
Bit Rate:11Mb/s

Here's where things get a little buggy. You're supposed to be able to set the the ESSID, the broadcast Mode, the access point and the WiFi channel for the zd1211 using the Linux iwconfig tool. As mentioned previously, in standard Managed mode (meaning you'll be connecting to an Access Point on your WiFi network), you have no control over the channel or the access point. The theory was that the adapter would set itself automatically. Unfortunately it doesn't although your mileage may vary if you have only a single access point within range of your zd1211.

As we indicated on the front end, our WiFi network is somewhat atypical. So the best solution for you is to execute the following commands and see what happens on your own wireless LAN:

ifconfig wlan0 (use your designated IP address)
iwconfig mode Auto
iwconfig wlan0 essid "MundyLANd" (use your ESSID)
iwconfig wlan0 key F57EC678F1B061BAC59EC593EFE (use your WEP key)
iwconfig mode Managed
iwlist wlan0 scanning (reports the cell numbers of each access point in range)
iwpriv wlan0 connect 01 (use the cell number of the access point closest to your zd1211)
iwlist freq

Now go to another machine in your network and see if you can ping your WiFi Asterisk@Home box:

ping (use the IP address of your WiFi AAH machine)

If you're successful, great! Reboot your WiFi AAH machine and repeat the test. If it works twice, you're probably safe skipping the next section.

Forcing the WiFi Adapter to a Specific Access Point and Channel. If you're getting random results with the above approach, then here's the solution that works. Unfortunately, it requires a set of eyeballs each time you reboot your system unless there's only one access point within range of your Asterisk Wi-Fi box:

ifconfig wlan0 (use your designated IP address)
iwconfig mode Managed
iwconfig wlan0 essid "MundyLANd" (use your ESSID)
iwconfig wlan0 key F57EC678F1B061BAC59EC593EFE (use your WEP key)
iwlist wlan0 scanning (reports the cell numbers of each access point in range)
iwpriv wlan0 connect 01 (use the cell number of the access point closest to your zd1211)
iwconfig (should show the MAC address of the access point from step above)
iwlist freq (should show the channel in use that matches your access point's broadcast channel)

To be sure you have connectivity on your local area network, issue this command: ping using the correct internal IP address of your own router/firewall.

This setup should work every time except you have to manually look at the results of the scanning report to decipher the proper cell number because the order of the list can change each time you run it. If only one access point is reported, you're in luck! Just test it several times to be sure. Once you're sure, you should be safe in executing the iwlist wlan0 scanning command followed by iwpriv wlan0 connect 01. Don't skip the scanning step, however, as this appears to "prime the pump." One other word of warning: don't execute the scanning command without first assigning an IP address to wlan0 using ifconfig, or you'll get an unrecoverable kernel panic.

That about covers all the gotcha's. The important lesson here is to get the network connectivity stable before you automate the process so that it autoloads when you boot your system. If you can't get stability in the channel and access point connectivity, at least make certain that you understand the limitations of your solution before making things automatic.

Adding Internet Connectivity. We haven't mentioned getting out to the Internet yet. For that to work, you'll need access to a name server (aka DNS). Here's another little Linux "feature" to bite you. The interactive mode of netconfig is designed to handle the eth0 interface. To get things working on the wlan0 interface, issue a command like this:

netconfig --gateway= --ip= --nameserver= --netmask= --device=wlan0

Be sure you adjust gateway (IP address of your router); ip (IP address of your new Asterisk box); nameserver (from a Mac or Windows machine: here's how to find it; on a Linux machine: nslookup mundy.org returns your DNS server's IP address on first line following Server:; netmask (you can find this with iwconfig); device=wlan0 (leave this alone). By the way, you only have to execute this command once, not every time you boot your system.

To make sure you've got Internet connectivity now, issue this command: ping novell.com. You should get a response showing the IP address of Novell's server. If not, check your entries above and try again.

Activating WiFi on Startup. One last piece and we're finished. We obviously want to activate WiFi connectivity on bootup and, if you only have one WiFi access point and no neighbors like me, you shouldn't have to manually tweak your system thereafter. As we stated initially, this ain't your daddy's Windows or Mac machine, so where to put what isn't quite obvious. You're also going to need to do this in two boot cycles because there are two separate pieces. If the second piece works and the first one doesn't, you'll get a seg fault and crash every time. Do you need to ask how I know?

Step 1: While logged in as root, create the following new file: nano -w /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-wlan0 using your IP address, netmask, and gateway settings from the netconfig drill above:


When you're finished adding the above commands, save the new file: Ctrl-X, Y, the press Enter. Now reboot your server: shutdown -r now. Once the system comes back up, log in as root, and issue the following command: ifconfig. Make sure that the display shows an IP address (inet addr) for your wlan0:

lo Link encap:Local Loopback
inet addr: Mask:
inet6 addr: ::1/128 Scope:Host
RX packets:425 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:425 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:0
RX bytes:32582 (31.8 KiB) TX bytes:32582 (31.8 KiB)

wlan0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 00:E0:98:F2:BB:40
inet addr: Bcast: Mask:
inet6 addr: fe80::2e0:98ff:fef2:bb40/64 Scope:Link
RX packets:976 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:592 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
RX bytes:91331 (89.1 KiB) TX bytes:75930 (74.1 KiB)

Step 2: While logged in as root, edit the following file: nano -w /etc/rc.d/rc.local. The existing file should look like the following. You'll note that this is where Asterisk@Home is actually started on bootup so be careful with your typing.

# This script will be executed *after* all the other init scripts.
# You can put your own initialization stuff in here if you don't
# want to do the full Sys V style init stuff.

touch /var/lock/subsys/local
/usr/local/sbin/motd.sh > /etc/motd
/usr/sbin/amportal start

Above the touch line, add a couple of blank lines and then cut-and-paste the following code using your ESSID and the password of your wireless LAN:

/sbin/iwconfig wlan0 mode Auto > /dev/null
/sbin/iwconfig wlan0 essid "MundyLANd" > /dev/null
/sbin/iwconfig wlan0 key F57EC678F1B061BAC59EC593EFE > /dev/null
/sbin/iwconfig wlan0 mode Managed > /dev/null
/sbin/iwlist wlan0 scanning > /dev/null
/sbin/iwpriv wlan0 connect 01 > /dev/null

Leave the mode Auto line alone. On the essid line, enter the name of your WiFi LAN in quotes. If you're using WEP encryption on your wireless LAN, enter the hex key in the next line. Otherwise, just delete the line: Ctrl-K. Leave the mode Managed line as is. Leave the iwlist scanning and iwpriv lines the way they are. Now save your changes: Ctrl-X, Y, then press Enter. Reboot again: shutdown -r now. Log in as root. Then issue the following commands:

iwlist freq

The iwconfig command will tell you if you're connected to your Access Point and also indicate the Frequency (which tells you the channel your zd1211 is on). The iwlist freq decodes frequencies into channels and tells you which one you're talking on. If it's the same as the default channel on your access point, you're done. If it's not, run the command iwlist wlan0 scanning command again and eyeball the cell number which matches your access point. Then reset the channel by issuing the following command with the cell number you deciphered instead of 01: iwpriv wlan0 connect 01. Whew! Congratulations! You're now the proud owner of an Asterisk-based Voice Over Wi-Fi PBX, and you're getting darn close to being a Linux guru. Enjoy!

Free U.S. Calls. Everybody loves free samples so here's one for you. You may remember Gene Willingham and the good folks at TelaSIP, the winner and least expensive provider in our unlimited U.S. long distance calling shootout. In a moment of weakness, TelaSIP's agreed to let you try out some free U.S. phone calls on their nickel. The service uses our Asterisk server and TelaSIP's long distance bandwidth. Calls are limited to 10 minutes after which the callee will hear "Goodbye" followed by a click. You'll get two beeps followed by a fast busy. In other words, time's up! Here's how to use this free service. Call from a phone in the U.S. with CallerID. Call the number shown on the map (inset) which is one of our DIDs in Charleston, South Carolina. The call will never be answered so you won't be billed for the long distance call. Within 10 seconds, you should hear a fast busy. Hang up, and our Asterisk server will call you back within 30 seconds assuming you have caller ID enabled. You won't believe how many calls we receive each day from folks with caller ID disabled. HINT: No return call = No caller ID. If you do get a call back, listen carefully when you answer! You'll be provided a random password for your call, and then you'll be prompted to key it in. With your phone keypad, do that and press the pound key (#). If you get a message that it's incorrect, try again (HINT: We told you to listen carefully). Once you successfully enter the password, you'll then get a DISA dial tone. Dial 1 and then the area code and phone number of someone you love (in the United States only). This is an excellent way for you to check out the voice quality of TelaSIP calls without spending a dime. Just don't abuse the offer or this paragraph may magically disappear ... as will the free calls. For those that don't know us, we don't record your calls, and we don't store the number of the person you're calling although the Asterisk logs probably have it for a while anyway. For security purposes, we do log your CallerID and the time of your call just in case you do something you shouldn't be doing and the FBI traces the call back to us. If any of the above offends you, exercise your constitutional right to not use this free service. Believe it or not, someone wrote and asked why they couldn't use this service without CallerID enabled on their phone. Think about it! And you won't believe how many calls we receive each day with a CallerID of Asterisk. That won't work either.

Nerd Vittles Allison Fund. As we mentioned last week, our next major project is an Appointment Reminder System. Using a touchtone phone, you can schedule an unlimited number of customized voice reminders for delivery at any future time to any phone numbers you desire. To make it work, we need customized voice prompts for the IVR interface. Unfortunately, these cost money. Allison, who records the Asterisk voice prompts for Digium, needs to eat. And so do we. We're springing for the costs of the prompts up front, but this is your golden opportunity to contribute to the cause. Provided we raise enough money to cover the costs, we'll put the voice prompts in the public domain. Otherwise, when the project is presented, those that didn't contribute will have to record their own voice prompts in order to use the system. The generous will get the Allison prompts either on a password-protected web site or by email.

Last week's donations were a little disappointing. We raised a whopping $15 which means less than half of our regular readers have donated to the cause. And, until yesterday, there wasn't a single donor from the U.S. Thanks, Hollywood, for breaking the curse. Unless there's a surge of enthusiasm and generosity this week, better get those baritone voices tuned up. But, it's not too late to show your true colors! Go for broke and make a $5 non-tax-deductible contribution via PayPal using any major credit card. You'll sleep better! Just click on this link. And, you have our absolute commitment. If we hit a million bucks, we'll never pass the hat again. Of course, we might stop writing these silly articles, too. But, based upon last week's numbers, it doesn't look like there's much risk of a financial windfall here. We're just trying to recoup the costs of the voice prompts.

Coming Attractions. We have a number of projects underway to keep us busy for the next few weeks and months, but we always love to hear from you. If there is a particular Asterisk project you'd like us to cover down the road, leave a comment. We read every one of them. On our short list at the moment are a HOW-TO on connecting two Asterisk servers together and all the great things you can do once you've done that such as building a failover Asterisk system, HOW-TO connect remote IP and IAX phones to your Asterisk system (both wired and WiFi), instant messaging, key system emulation with Asterisk@Home 2.2, DUNDI, HOW-TO let Asterisk read your emails to you over the phone, the new Appointment Reminder System mentioned above, plus a few surprises. Don't expect all of this overnight, but we'll get there. With most of this stuff, we usually write about it as we build it. So you're reading these articles while riding in the front seat most of the time. Come back and visit often and tell your friends about us.

Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

The Best of Santa: Introducing the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet.everything

Ever wished someone would come up with a portable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled device with a web browser, email client, news reader, PDF viewer, streaming audio and video players, and a SIP phone all rolled into a Linux-based, Internet Tablet? Well, it’s here with the exception of the SIP phone which is scheduled for early 2006. It’s about the size of your hand. And, if games are your thing, there’s Chess, Mahjong, Marbles, and virtually any other game that has been ported to the ARM version of Slackware including clones of Tetris, IceBreaker, Minesweeper, Doom, and on and on.

The good folks at Nokia (yep, the cellphone people) finally have shipped the Nokia 770. And what a toy it is: the perfect addition to every commuter train ride or Starbucks visit. You may never travel with a notebook PC again. By loading an X terminal emulator, you have a Linux command prompt that will let you load and install virtually any Debian application on the planet: ssh, rsync, Office-compatible apps, VNC, NFS, GAIM IM, SQLite, and yes, someone has even ported the Asterisk® PBX to the 770. For those with a compatible Bluetooth cellphone, you can use your phone as your 770’s Internet link when there’s no Wi-Fi access point in your vicinity. It’s a bit quirky, but it does work with both CDMA and GSM Treo 650’s. And the best news of all: the Nokia 770 sports a high-res color screen that will have you believing you’re still sitting at your desktop PC. Best price: $349 at CompUSA this week.

If you want to learn more, start at Nokia’s site for Flash-based demonstrations (which play equally well on the Nokia 770 incidentally). Then visit the Nokia-supported development site, maemo.org, and have a look at the long list of apps which already are available and are free to download. And then head over to Vidar Madsen’s and Russell Beattie’s sites to see what’s new in the Nokia 770 universe. And by all means pay a visit to Ari Jaaksi, whose Open Source team at Nokia made it all possible. For a more detailed review, visit this ArsTechnica link. Still have questions? Check out the Internet Tablet Talk Forums.