Category Archives: computing

Willowdale Mesh

August 2017 UPDATE: I have taken down my node as I was not able to generate enough interest.  Please reach out if you’re interested in building out the mesh.

A mesh network is a network where all participants can communicate with each other, with each participant cooperating with the transmission of information.

Although I can’t think of a practical application for myself, I think it would be fun to build, and I would like to start a wireless mesh network in Willowdale/North York.

Wouldn’t it be neat:

  • To have a wifi connection in Dempsey Park?
  • To build a network of wifi connections, allowing me to reach  friends beyond the range of wifi, at the other end of my street?
  • To connect to my car, 18 floors below me?
  • To connect to my home network in my laundry room?
  • To meet other people nearby who think this is neat?

Getting Started

To connect to the current mesh:

  • You need to add support for the CJDNS network protocol to your system
  • If you can see the tomesh wifi hotspot, you can connect over wifi with a wifi card which supports 802.11s.  Alternately, we can bridge the networks over the Internet – just send us an email.

The easiest way to connect to the mesh is to setup a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3, with a TP-Link TL-WN722N USB wifi adapter, and install’s CJDNS prototype software, using ‘tomesh’ as the SSID for the wireless network.

Once you have successfully connected to the Willowdale Mesh, you should be able to view a status page at the following URL: http://[fceb:c499:c028:df7e:3748:a690:6e34:e27e] (note: this site is not accessible on the public Internet).


Join our group:

Current State

There are currently 2 to 4 nodes on the Willowdale Mesh Network.

Willowdale Mesh Node Map
Willowdale Mesh Node Map

Avenues for Exploration and Experimentation

Given the low cost of data plans and inexpensive home Internet, outside of experimenting with mesh networks, there is little need, and likely little interest, in building out an isolated mesh network in the Willowdale.

It might be more interesting to build out a mesh network capable of easily delivering WiFi Internet access to all devices.  Such a network would almost certainly attract users, particularly in public areas such as Dempsey Park or Mel Lastman square.  Such a network would present interesting performance, logistical, legal, and financial challenges.

For this type of network, I have been looking into used routers from TP-Link, like the TL-WDR3600 or TL-WDR4300, running OpenWRT, using their 2.4 GHz radio as an access point, and the 5 GHz radio to mesh with the B.A.T.M.A.N. + BMX mesh software.


Building SIO2Arduino to enable an Atari 800XL to use SD Cards

Last winter, I built an SIO2Arduino circuit – it is an adapter, that enables the Atari to use disk images loaded on to a regular SD card.

My build of the SIO2Arduino SD Card Adapter
My build of the SIO2Arduino SD Card Adapter

To the Atari, the SD card works just like a floppy drive.  It’s was built following the instructions found here:

With a program called SDRIVE, I can select a disk image on the SD card, and then load it:

Selecting an Atari image on the SD card using the SDRIVE program
Selecting an Atari image on the SD card using the SDRIVE program

I never did get the adapter working perfectly – I can load certain disk images, such as ballblazer, but not others, like Karateka.  I think it would take a lot more investigation, and perhaps digging into code, to figure out how to fix this issue.

ballblazer running on Atari from SD Card
ballblazer running on Atari from SD Card

Until I get a suitable TV, this is likely as far as I’m taking this particular project.

Fragile Media

Am I the only one who worries about data?


In grade 5 (this was in the 80s), I was one of perhaps two kids that typed up my projects in a word processor.  Night before a project was due, WordPerfect 4.2 froze on me, and the 286 I was running it on wouldn’t boot again, and my work was lost.  I had actually printed it, and handed in a marked up draft.  But an important lesson was learned, very early – keep backups.  Note here how resilient the daisy-wheel printed draft was, and how fragile the PC was.

Flash forward to current day.  Most of the work I produce belongs to my employer – I see that data as their responsibility – what they lose costs them, they can back up the work I produce as they choose.

But of interest to me in my personal life is MY data.  And I have lots.  I have lost my fair share of hard drives, floppies, and CD/DVDs over the years.  But I’ve been lucky – apart from:
1) MS Basic 2 games written as a primary school student on a C64
2) email from pre-2001, lost due to silly University data retention policies (and they were silly – I bet that Alumni department wishes they could reach me by email now)
I haven’t lost anything due to reasonable backups.  But I’ve never dealt with fire, loss, or theft.

I have little use for physical media.  I live in an apartment and have little use or physical storage space for prints.  So I’ve prioritized – I have little work or correspondence to back up – all of the physical stuff sits in the top drawer of a small filing cabinet.  I hope for the best for important documents.

Photos of events are shared online – not much use for prints.  Or is there?  I had been copying camera flash cards to a hard drive and optical media.  The optical media is brand name and stored in a dark place, but I still don’t trust it.  I’ve seen photos of myself as a child – I think my daughter deserves the same.  “Oh, Nameless Manufacturer put out a bunch of drives with buggy firmware in 2009 which ate your first step photos” isn’t going to cut it for me as an excuse.

What about music?  I’m still pretty old school – the indie record store across the street shut its doors last year – but I still buy CDs.  Prior to a 2009 hard drive crash, I never backed up my MP3s thinking, “I’ve got the original on CD”.  But I don’t have the time I did as a student – ripping 100s of CDs takes A LOT OF TIME.  As for iTunes – I had fun as a teen flipping thru my dad’s LPs – I don’t think any child born in 2010 will get the chance to hear the music of their parent’s youth (I can imagine “I bought that album BEFORE Apple removed DRM” or “the Avril Lavigne hard drive must have crashed in 2005”).

Hard drives are pretty cheap these days – the last time I bought a drive, I bought two, and set one up to copy over to the other once a week.  The stuff on the 2nd drive never gets deleted – so if I accidentally delete a folder on my working drive, I can get it back on the the 2nd (point in time back ups).  I run Linux at home, and use a little app called Back In Time to accomplish this task.  The last time I looked at this from the Windows side, there was an application called “Dantz Retrospect” that seemed to get a lot of these things right – it seemed like the perfect solution for a small office (I think they’ve since been bought out by EMC).

Of course, as important as making backups is making sure you can restore them.  I have to say, I’m not that forward thinking.  I think I need my own IT employee at home to think this thru.

Backups is actually something I think Apple does best for home users (but, perhaps, still not well) – I think Time Machine is probably the best thing to happen to the masses who don’t really have the time or interest in worrying about this stuff.

This still doesn’t cover loss due to fire or theft.  Fortunately, online storage is pretty inexpensive these days – cheap enough for the data I create, still too expensive and slow for the music and video I consume.  With Linux, I use s3fs to backup my work to Amazon’s S3 online storage service – it costs me a couple dollars a month.  On the Windows side, I haven’t tried either of these solutions but did come across JungleDisk for Amazon S3 backups and in previous searches.

What I don’t understand is why this is still a problem?  Thirty years of personal computing and no one has fixed this.  We’ve got a long way to go.  Anyone think the “cloud” will solve this 🙂