I'm swinging on the front porch shade, with happy wifi bars lit up on my laptop. A good network makes for a happy home, isn't that how the saying goes? (Maybe not yet.)

Typically that's easy to achieve -- here it wasn't. The house is solar powered, the only connection to the outside is a phone line. So I needed a computer that would work in that environment, using minimal (12 volt) power, and getting the most out of the limited bandwidth while providing those happy wifi bars.

At DebConf we learned that the name for these little home servers we have been building for years is "FreedomBox". All right then, here's my latest FreedomBox build.

A typical inexplicable tangle of computer bits.
  • Computer: NSLU2. There are faster choices than the "Slug", but on dialup, speed doesn't much matter, and there are not many lower-powered choices. And with the NSLU2, I can take advantage of years of development and experience, that has resulted in great support for running eg, Debian on it, and deep available knowledge of hardware hacks. It's proven, cheap, highly reliable hardware, and I had it lying around.
  • Power: The NSLU2 is a 5 volt computer. There are some highly (90%) efficient 12 volt to 5 volt converters, which I covet. But the cheap and easy option is a automotive USB power adapter. So power is coming in to the NSLU2 on a USB cable. It's possible to just plug that into its usb port and it will run. But that wastes a port. Instead, I made the other end of the usb cable have a NSLU2 power socket on it. So, no wasted ports. The system has available as many amps as the voltage converter supplies. Not many. Booting it with too many usb gadgets attached could be an issue. (If I need to run an external usb hard drive, it had better have its own power supply.)
  • Wireless: ZyDAS 2501 USB dongle. Not my first choice, just one I had lying around. This device cannot run in AP mode. It is, by the way, possible to use some USB dongles in AP mode with a modified hostapd, but the few I know that work are out of stock. No problem; this house won't have many visitors, and I can tell them the details for connecting using Ad-Hoc wireless mode.
  • Storage: 64 gb thumb drive I had lying around. Hmm, last time I touched a NSLU2, I had only 1 gb drives lying around. Progress.
  • Modem: My NSLU2 is modified to have an external serial port, so I can use an external modem if desired. But I suspect a USB modem will use slightly less power, even though this third USB device means I need a USB hub too. I was doubtful about finding a USB modem dongle that works with Linux, but it was actually no problem, the USR5637 Just Works.
  • Software: Debian Linux of course. For the first time I'm using the polipo web proxy cache, and it works marvelously on dialup and on this low-spec system. Combined with dnsmasq, this makes web browsing over dialup actually not painful.

Since the solar house is in the sticks, the result is a server I call "stick".