Teknoholics Project: Mobile File sharing with PirateBox/LibraryBox









Last summer an interesting Kickstarter project launched, and was quickly funded at more than ten times it's requested ammount.  The project was LibraryBox 2.0, a fork of the GNU GPLv3 licensed PirateBox art project by Dr. David Darts.  The initial concept was to transform any space into a temporary communication and wireless file sharing network. When users join the PirateBox wireless network and open a web browser, they are automatically redirected to the PirateBox welcome page. Users can then immediately begin chatting and/or uploading or downloading files.

LibraryBox takes PirateBox to a little safer ground by sharing a library of files but no longer allowing people who connect to it the ability to upload potentially copywritten materials.  The idea was the brain child of Jason Griffey an associate professor and head of Library Information Technology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  His thought was that taking such a system into areas with limited or no internet access with a library of books, learning materials, disaster survival materials etc. could be of great assistance in disaster recovery areas, or foreign countries where access to the internet is severely regulated.

The project was featured in this months issue of MAKE: magazine, and since I already had the materials needed on hand I decided to play around with it to see how easy it was to get up and running.

The foundation that the project is built on is a small wireless router from TP-Link, the MR3020.  This small portable router is desgned to be used with 3G USB modems to share cellular data connections via wi-fi.  The software of the router is overwritten with a program called OpenWRT, which for all intents and purposes turns the router into a web server.

The next thing that is needed is USB storage to house the files that are going to be shared.  I used the Leef Fuse 2.0 32GB High-speed USB Flash Drive with Magnet Cap and PrimeGrade Memory (Charcoal/Black).  I had other USB flash drives around, but this was the smallest with a decent capacity to be able to store data.

While that is all that is needed, to make my setup a little more portable and easier to deploy, I added a 12000mAh portable power bank that I had laying around.

So for you to build the exact setup I have put together would be less than $100.  For that money you get a completely mobile filesharing device with 8-12 hours of uptime before it needs to be plugged in!  Not a bad setup.  You can use it to share files at a LAN Party, to share information at an outdoor event, or even as a kind of Digital GeoCache, where people can check-in on the wall to prove that they found it, and download a file or upload a file as well.  The options are endless, and changes are relatively easy to make.

You can find the original project and instructions for the PirateBox here.  Information on Jason Griffey's LibraryBox fork is available here, or in MAKE Volume 37, page 74.

This is what you see in Terminal once you have connected to your MR3020 for the first time after it has been modified

Uploading files and leaving notes on the chat board are easy tasks to accomplish

The main page information link takes you to this captive page with more details about the PirateBox concept

Review: SkyDog Smart Family Wi-Fi Router

When SkyDog launched a KickStarter campaign in April, it struck a cord with families.  A Web-controlled router giving you very targeted control of al devices and people accessing your wireless network.  They raised 162% of their requested funding in just over a month, and their product just released to the public this week.  I got a-hold of their Skydog Web App and Smart Family Wi-Fi Router to try in out house, and I'm not ever going back to a normal router.

Powercloud Systems, the company behind SkyDog has built a very well thought out and functional product.  I get a text alert and email any time an unknown device connects to the router.  I can then ban it if it is unknown, leave it with the default security access on the router, or assign it to a known user so that it receives the limits I have set for that person.  

While that may not make sense to all of you, here is an example that will:  My son connects to the wireless network with his Xbox to play a game.  I have already set his access to limit use to certain times of day, and to further limit his access to appropriate sites during the time he has access.  As soon as the xbox connects it gets the default access level (family safe browsing/streaming) for the network he is attached to, and as soon as I tell the router it is the boy, his access increases during allowed hours, and is turned off during limited time slots.  If he wants to stay up a little later than usual because there is no school tomorrow, I can override his turnoff time for just tonight by hitting the override button and setting a time limit.  Here is what his access profile looks like:

What makes this even better is that I can set up multiple virtual networks and limit the ammount of our internet bandwidth each network can access.  In real world application the network is set up like this:

So my wife and I connect to the main network with 75% of the bandwidth.  All of the streaming boxes except for the sons XBox connect to the main network as well.  The kids are sequestered to their own virtual network, where I can make sure that their usage doesn't interfere with anyone's TV watching.

In all there is much more control than this, and we may dial things down even more in time.  The big thing is how easy it is to use this system, and being able to put so much control into anyone's hands to limit access to their home networks.

I highly recomend this router to anyone wanting to make sure they know what and when their kids are on the internet.