Recycling houses, routers and other things.
Tim: [00:00:00] [00:00:00] I'm Tim Panton
Vim: [00:00:01] and I'm Vimla Appadoo
Tim: [00:00:02] and this is the distributive future podcast. So this episode is about recycling.
It is a really nice interview with a guy I met many years ago who basically recycles houses?
Vim: [00:00:16] Wow,
Tim: [00:00:17] yeah right
so, so he takes a house. That's maybe a hundred years old and. That nobody wants and he makes it livable and then rent it out to people and it's not like it's sort of because he feels I think because he feels it's a waste not to and given that he's American.
This is like these are old houses. They're not, you know, it's not like a hundred-year-old house in America is a much rarer thing than here and the. So it's different slighty different kind of feel to it from that point of view. But it what's interesting is that it's from my perspective is that it's it brings in this whole business of taking not just building new houses.
Not [00:01:00] just buying new stuff. Like he said one of the things he says in it is like we never buy I never buy new stuff. Like if I can avoid it I buy second hand. You know and I and I buy things and then I mend them and that it's whole. And he he's thing is that we're going to have to do more of that.
Like, you know, you can't just buy a new tractor whatever you need to buy an old one and fix it, but it's really interesting kind of conversation from that point of view, right? How do you do that? And how does it work practically and and this kind of stuff is going to not a thing. I'd really consider doing I mean the sort of DIY I suppose we have houses, but but not but
Vim: [00:01:41] that's really interesting because I had a similar conversation this weekend.
Thinking more about how lets say from clothes perspective and actually just generally how what's the line between up cycling or Recycling and getting the most out of something and hoarding because there's so much stuff. I'm holding onto in the [00:02:00] not the hope that are more the one day. I'll use it or it's going to come in handy or someone's going to need to borrow it versus the kind of get rid of everything you own live.
Minimally. Don't buy anything new because I haven't bought. New so I've stopped by new clothes for about two years and when I only shopping charity shops or secondhand spaces, but yeah, I kind of almost feel like
Tim: [00:02:24] yeah, I mean my my way of doing that likely the other angle, which is 2. To buy good stuff and then keep it for like a lot longer than most people would that's the kind of way it goes for me
Vim: [00:02:40] so what what's his what's his starting point? How did he get into it?
Tim: [00:02:46] Oh, well, I mean, I'm sure you have to listen to interview to get the full thing. But but basically it just kind of not really being happy with the the waste of it like, you know, seeing a house that was unoccupied.
That [00:05:40] was a you know, somebody had presumably at some point being somebody's proud of pride and joy and you know, then nobody wanted it and add part of the subtext of this is that he's in kind of Middle America and the place is hollowed out. Like, you know people leave the small towns for the big cities.
And so the small towns have got much less kind of like, you know life to them anymore. So I think that's that's an aspect of it. And the other thing that struck me in interesting about it was like this thing about how. Technology enables him to do that so he can find parts for the old tractor on eBay or he can find the old tractor on eBay and you know, he says you go and buy your drive a couple hundred miles to pick something up.
It's a bit but that'll be in a car. That's. 15 years old and bought for $400 12 years ago or something, you know, it's like this weird kind [00:06:40] of a whole other way of living but he's computer science Professor. So it's not like we're talking about somebody who's not technologically kind of. modern in that sense.
It's just that that's the way he wants to live his life. And he thinks that the rest of us are going to have to
Vim: [00:04:18] I agree, but then that I think that's very true. I think we live in a world at the moment where it's. Really quick consumerism and if I think that's my my dad's generation on my what my parents were like, they never threw anything out but I could still go through my dad shed and find stuff that he's had since the 70s there because he just unless it was broken.
It wasn't getting chucked out. It was getting used and reused and parts of it would be used different things and even to the extent of kind of old boxes or like metal tins or anything like that,
Tim: [00:04:51] right? Oh, no, but I think I. To how much of that has to do with the fact that those things were built to be generally [00:07:40] useful but now the only ones that's kind of part of the design.
Vim: [00:05:04] Yeah. Yeah, that's true
Tim: [00:05:05] disconcerting.
Vim: [00:05:08] Very true.
Tim: [00:05:09] Yeah, so that means the other the other aspect of it is is the software like he
Vim: [00:05:15] yeah,
Tim: [00:05:16] he will buy old stuff and put new software on it
Vim: [00:05:19] and how does that work? Like how old are you talking?
Tim: [00:05:24] Well, I think he says he's got some like internet routers that were like 10 or 12 years old,
Vim: [00:05:30] right,
Tim: [00:05:30] but there's an open source Community who produce new firmware for those old Reuters and you can just put it on this old router and it'll do new tricks.
Vim: [00:05:40] All right, that should be interesting.
Tim: [00:05:43] It's funny. It's like, you know, it's different when it's still recycling right? It's
Vim: [00:05:50] yeah
Tim: [00:05:50] recycling but you know, better.

Brian: [00:05:54] Okay, so I'm Brian Capouch. I'm a retired computer science [00:11:54] Professor from a small College in Northwest, Indiana that. Used to exist a couple of years ago after it had the great Fortune of receiving a great big huge 80 million dollar farm.
Somehow the college Personnel decided to get rid of the college and keep the farm. So I retired at that point and right now I am working on a number of old houses. I live in an old house and right at the moment. I own eight other old houses. Although I'm in the process of sorting through them and some of them are going to have to go.
I've just got more than I can handle it this point, but I've been doing this since 2004 I was. Down the street and looked into an old house one day and saw a meal sitting on the table and it piqued my curiosity and I asked around a little bit. Turned out the gentleman had passed away who lived in the house while he was eating a meal and the man who told me that told me that this was a railroad Hotel.
It was [00:12:54] built a long time ago and it turned out that it was built in 1853 and the family that owned the hotel gave it to me and that was the beginning of what has become something but quest for me and I think that's what you wanted to talk about today.
Tim: [00:07:12] Yeah, so I mean for me the way I kind of. I heard the story all the way the story kind of came over to me was that it's what you're doing is kind of the ultimate in recycling.
I mean, if you look in the way we're going in the future we're going to have to recycle more we're going to have to kind of do less starting from scratch and more reusing things that already exist that are serviceable and and it strikes me that that you're a person who does a lot of that and like you effectively recycled whole houses, and I think that that.
You know, that's a trend for where we need to go and I'm kind of interested in what the process is and also to some extent what. How much kind of modern technology allows you to do that [00:13:54] allows you to keep an eye on all of these houses allows you to know. I didn't you know, just generally how that fits into your computer science background.
Like, you know, where did the two mesh?
Brian: [00:08:11] Well, the one thing that I've done that is in currently sort of a intermediate State because my renters like to fiddle around with the hardware that I put into houses, but what I did I have a bunch of houses that are in proximity to one another and I bought a whole bunch of cheap old routers.
They were actually Netgear WGT. Let's see 534. I can't remember the exact model number anymore, but it was an older Netgear router and I bought a whole passel of them probably 15 or 20 of them and I flash them all with open wrt. And I set up a network between all the houses and into each of the houses and they communicate around with one another sort of.
Redundant ring not so much a mesh. I use standard routing and standard [00:14:54] basically point-to-point connections and route between them but each house then the units are capable of doing a whole bunch of things a single one doesn't do all of them at once because of the load that it puts on the processor, but the open-source drivers that come with those of allowed me to put webcams on them.
I have asterisk running on some of them and I set up a telephone system and then. Of course have IP communication some of them act as access points on the Mac is routers and some of them is Wireless clients and I use the same platform for all of them because it's made it much easier for me. I can just swap one out and put another one in and so.
That has been the sort of biggest thing that I've been able to do with these houses is to enable me to keep an eye on them. Even though I'm not in physical proximity to them. I actually live about 20 miles away from where most of the houses are and I recently acquired a mansion that was built in 1916 that is [00:15:54] 50 miles in the other direction.
And right now I'm battling with that one because there is very very very very little internet service. It's out in the middle of some Farm ground. And I'm actually working with an egg producer who? Set up a network amongst his egg production houses and eventually realize that that same network.
It's a Wi-Fi network in the air might benefit local farmers. And the last time I talked to him. He said that amongst his he's a very big egg farmer but amongst the various Farms that he has he has about 300 or 400 farmers who are all connecting the internet through his egg places. And so we're working on extending his Network where I might be able to use one of his egg Farms to get conductivity there and at that point I'll have a relatively seamless.
Network we're all my houses can all talk to one another and I can sort of virtually check into any of the houses from any of the others.
Tim: [00:10:51] So just tracking back to the kind of the hardware you say you take what's essentially a like a commodity router that you might buy in a store or do you [00:16:54] buy second hand it on eBay?
Brian: [00:11:02] I'm of bottom-feeder everything I own and everything. I deal with pretty much is second hand. I was thinking before we started talking here if there's anything that I buy new and other than you know, fresh food and socks and underwear, that's about it. Everything else that I get is bought used including the phone that we're doing this on.
I got this off of eBay about four years ago and flashed it with an open source ROM. And and so yeah everything that I do is bought used and. Sort of factor into the thing the fact that I'm only paying a percentage of what the new price would be and so a few of them come out of the hole dead but most of them work.
Okay, and it is really for me proven to be a very that once you get used to a given platform and so it's the WGT 634U. I think as I'm trying to recall the model number and and I think maybe I have 20 of them and and so yes, they've all been bought used. They've all been bought different times and different places but [00:17:54] usually for me Bay although sometimes.
I find things on Craigslist as well. And nowadays Facebook Marketplace has turned into a very interesting place to acquire lots of sorts of things to
Tim: [00:12:10] so again coming back to how you use those you're using you're not using the stock firmware that comes on the device. So it's like it'll arrive with like presumably old software on it from the manufacturer and then you re flash it with something that you find.
more usable that's open source that says like you're adding features by replacing the manufacturers firmware with with something that's free, essentially
Brian: [00:12:42] exactly. And so I've come up with a configuration. I. Taught operating systems for a number of years. It was one of my favorite classes to teach and so I got started with open wrt many many years ago when it actually ran on a wrt one of the linksys systems.
And of course it has its [00:18:54] own huge ecosystem now and I was used to building kernels from scratch before and so really building a ROM is not dissimilar to building a kernel and I've been able to build them kind of, you know, small footprint because I only include the drivers and I include all the drivers.
Modules and so I can keep the footprint super small and the machines are super cheap. And I just as I bring them up I can choose at boot time which drivers I want to use if I wanted as a phone that I want the drivers that I want with asterisk and if I want to use it for camera, then I use a video drivers and so on and so forth and it's proven to be incredibly resilient and Incredibly cheap and Incredibly effective.
Tim: [00:13:41] So I'm, I'm really fascinated by this area. And in fact, one of the things I'm trying to go to one of the people, I'm going to try and interview in the on a future episode is is about the area of. Drug delivery for diabetics. I don't know if you've seen this [00:19:54] but there's a there's a whole open source Community who reflash their.
They're diabetic drug Delivery Systems because the the well as ship from the manufacturer, it's not very smart. It's a very dumb algorithm and there's space in there to to redesign the algorithm so that it fits better to your personal. Needs and I just thought that that I mean it sounds terrifying of course, but on the other hand having an open source community that can drive that and repurpose existing Hardware.
I think it's really really interesting. I think you know
Brian: [00:14:39] absolutely
Tim: [00:14:40] politics of that is kind of fascinating as well
Brian: [00:14:43] another way in which I'm able to do. This is that I make a weekly visit to the thrift stores and I actually live out in the middle of nowhere but there's a fairly good-sized Town Purdue University is about an hour away.
So I drive down there once week. It's pretty amazing in a town that has a [00:20:54] Technical University people cast off all kinds of technology and I've picked up all kinds of routers and various sorts of electronic gear there and and open wrt. If you're not familiar with it is a miraculous product. It really runs on all kinds of embedded Hardware.
And and so it's been very rare for me to find one. That isn't somehow I that I can't Flash and do something with so the access point my house right now was picked up at the Goodwill store down by Purdue for I think nine dollars and and so it's enabled me to do things that I wouldn't be able to do otherwise in two different dimensions one is that I don't pay much for the hardware and the second thing is it since I get to build my own ROMs.
I include what I need and don't include what I don't need and I've been able. Make a really versatile platform that kind of services a whole bunch of different applications from a single box
Tim: [00:15:52] and and presumably most of those devices are no longer supported by the manufacturer and in some cases. The manufacturer doesn't exist anymore.
[00:21:54] Brian: [00:16:00] Yep. That's exactly right these units. I can't tell you when they were made. I want to say it may have been. Even back into the 90s early 2000s, but but definitely they've they've been end of life too long long time by the manufacturer and I have some of them running that are running in fact a couple of them that are running off grid.
So like many of the I keep my oh it's a it's an intranet for me. And so I don't have too many security issues. I'm lucky to be in towns where there aren't very many technologically aware people and so I haven't and of course you can warn me right away. You're going to get burned one of these days, but there really isn't much that you could hurt if you did hack into them because I'm only using them basically for surveillance and Communications, but I've got some routers here that are running asterisk from a million years ago and they still I mean the main one that takes my voicemail here at home was a.
Patch level release that I found that I built. It happened to [00:22:54] work perfectly and I haven't upgraded it. And so it's been a real fun thing as well as being economic.
Tim: [00:17:06] Yeah, I mean maybe we should like do a little Segway very brief conversation about asterisk in the in the sense that it it's a product which is allowed kind of you to take what was basically an old scrap PC and turn it into a telephone exchange.
I mean, that's the way that I've ended up using asterisk a it sounds like you're going a notch further and taking old. Smaller devices and turning them into telephone exchanges, but the fact that you could do that with a piece of Open Source software. I think that's got a grow that's got to be the way that the future goes like the you know being reliant on only the manufacturer software is it feels like it's a lost cause you know that we are going to move towards more open source.
Do you think that still fair or do you see that door closing?
Brian: [00:17:55] No. No, I think very much so and in fact. It's a it's [00:23:54] amazing to me now because I sort of grew up years ago where the platform was a very constrained and there wasn't much ROM there wasn't much RAM nothing. That was there was there and much abundance and now it's it's really like Glory Days because once you've learned to build everything into a shoebox now the sorts of devices that we see are so much more capacious and it's much more.
It's much easier now to build the things that I build and so I actually have asterisk running on five or six different devices and also have a cloud asterisk server that sort of acts as my uber server and most of them can talk to it. I have a few that I keep off grid just because I don't want to tempt anybody to try to hack into them.
But for most of them I talk through the cloud and I've got. I always keep up-to-date and I can't remember what the current version is. But I just built it a couple days ago. So I keep the cloud version completely up-to-date with whatever the current release version is and then lots of the other ones.
I'm probably running ten different versions of [00:24:54] asterisk. Although my use case is simple enough that it's it really it doesn't really matter what version I'm running but is it pride point I try to always on my Cloud Server run the very latest release.
Tim: [00:19:10] So that's kind of brings into interesting areas one of which is.
Kind of backwards compatibility. Basically, you're saying that like you've got software that's been more aware. We probably the oldest asterisk might be 10 years old. You've got software. That's maybe 10 years old interacting with the current version.
Absolutely,
successfully and that's down to standards.
Do you think or do you think that's down to the continuation of the project? Like
Brian: [00:19:38] I think that the people who have done asterisk have done a tremendously good job of making sure that it has has remained backwards compatible. And I you know how I thought ahead I could have looked to see what version I'm running on this open wrt machine but or to look at to see the latest release was just a couple.
Days ago and so I've got a build system [00:25:54] setup and when I get an email that the new version is in I build it and go and I tested a little bit but it just one gets lazy because really all the testing is kind of pointless because it just works and that's the other thing about the asterisks it is my use case is fairly straightforward, but it's like there's never a concern about compatibility as a versions change.
And so yeah, I have and again, I wish I could tell you what versions it is that which one's talking to which one. The very latest one is probably talking to one that it's at least 10 years old because I have I can't remember when I build it. I can as I talk here. I'm thinking gosh that was about three main boxes ago.
And that would have been into the yeah early part of the 2000s sometimes when I did that
Tim: [00:20:46] so it's interesting. What kind of starting to see here is a pattern where the. Ability of Open Source to kind of bridge Hardware Generations. [00:26:54] So like I mean, I was watching a TV show The from 12 years ago, and that one of the central plot points was around the DVD player.
It's like and I'm thinking I'm not sure I actually own one that works, you know, and and so like even in in in 12 years like a whole generation of Technology can go from. Existing to not existing and things like open source allows us to to bridge that Gap and hopefully that's going to continue in the future.
Do you see the manufacturers making? More difficult to to retrofit software in place of their release software or would you think like they don't care
Brian: [00:21:45] I am I have stuck with this single platform since I it it has USB and it has a fair amount of Ram with it. And so because of that now it is now much more difficult to find the but when I bought them I bought so [00:27:54] many of them that I haven't actually had an experience with later stuff because the stuff that I have right now is still in service. So I but my understanding is I do Fair a fair amount of reading about it and my understanding is it basically manufacturers have kind of given up on trying to I mean, they don't see generically much. They're using open source for their own. Things that they put on to this stuff and and so I think that it's probably easier now than it has ever been before to repurpose these things with open source software.
At least that's the sense that I get from the open. Wrt Community as I dip in because nowadays it's almost. Never that. I find a platform, you know, I pick up these things I go to the Goodwill store with a phone in my hand and sit there and read off the labels or scan the barcode on the label and then put it into the wrt database to see if there is a version for it and man.
It's pretty much everything out there. Now, they've got covered and and again the [00:28:54] stuff that I'm looking at Goodwill store is probably 10 years newer than the stuff that I'm running here at home.
Tim: [00:23:06] And so in terms of the network, they are like basically point-to-point Wi-Fi or you do do you have some cabling in there as well?
And I'm thinking in an older house like retrofitting cable might be might be quite tricky.
Brian: [00:23:25] That's it. Everything is Wireless in the old houses. And in fact one of the pride points and if this goes back quite a few years, but one of the houses I had had been completely gutted before I pick in fact the old railroad Hotel.
It had been wired in the 1930s or 1940s and then that was ripped out about 1960 and then that had become so obsolete that somebody ahead of me had taken out the fuse box. So when I got there there was no electricity in the place at all. But using a battery conveniently the open wrt running on these [00:29:54] W gts-r 12 volts DC.
So I had actually had internet in the hotel before it's an old railroad Hotel. I had internet there before I had electricity. It's not the case anymore. But my egg farmer friend who was very very very deep into this hacking back in the early days of opened up wrt. He actually had quite a few of his egg Farms where he had set things up with batteries and some of his employees just had a chore to drive by and change the batteries on some of his access points and some of his client machines and he for quite a while ran all that on batteries because he just he didn't want to trust the electrical grid.
Now has been stable but there was a period of time here where I live where it was very unstable for reasons that I don't really understand and so he just ran them all off a 12-volt batteries and they ran perfectly. So that was an amazing thing to sit there and think that here was a place that lacked electricity, but still had high speed internet.
[00:30:54] Tim: [00:25:00] Yeah, you chose not to run that on solar though. Just like you did a battery swap because the life was long enough.
Brian: [00:25:09] I did a battery because I have to deal with things that don't cost much and there's by the time a solar setup would be put in and of course there are issues with cloudy days. And and I also have an I won't pretend this little town where my houses are has really really really suffered from severe.
Economic Decline and it's that has been probably the most serious and I hate to bring this in but the opioid epidemic in the midwest here has really changed people's lives even my life in that the sort of dependable. Low income people that I interacted with in terms of finding residents for the homes that I have that has kind of dried up as the opioid crisis has continued and it's also cause people become much more Brazen about things like theft and vandalism [00:31:54] the vandalism coming from people who aren't very rational in the theft coming from people who are very desperate.
And so that has changed things and has limited what I mean sort of the attitude I've had is it. Alright if I got 20 bucks or 40 bucks worth of Hardware there and. Decides to come in and take it. It's no big loss if I had a thousand dollars worth of Hardware. I'd have a lot harder time sleeping.
Tim: [00:26:21] So.
When you swap the batteries on on one of these like so you take a truck battery or a car battery and you drop it in place and you plug it in. How long does it run for
Brian: [00:26:34] it? All depends on how old the battery is but several days. I mean it that they don't pull much current at all. And and I believe that my friend who he was the student of this and so I'm relying when I did it.
I did it for a few weeks and it and eventually because I wanted to electricity in the house. Anyway, as soon as I got the electricity was a lot easier than switching batteries, but he actually chose to do it that way for [00:32:54] reliability which seems odd, but he just said he couldn't afford any downtime at all.
And so he just had a regular route that a man ran with batteries and I think he said he was running the new batteries in there every 3 days. I think he was running about three days on it, but II did not experiment greatly with it. But for sure when I was doing it twice a week was. Was every once in a while, I'd come in and find a battery dead.
But again, I didn't trust the batteries. My batteries were new either see I'm kind of the bottom feeder bottom feeder and so it was a non-critical application, but for him, it was critical and I want to say that he told me it was about three days.
Tim: [00:27:37] Okay, that's interesting. So it's like that's actually an option you and then you bring it back and you charge it and that just means that you need a stock of like spared charged batteries.
And if you bought them cheap that's better economics than. Running solar cells. That's an and less risky. I'm and I I hear what you're saying about the opioid crisis [00:33:54] like one reads about it in the in the press and hears about it on the radio, but I it's like it's something I know very little about unfortunately or fortunately probably I don't know
Brian: [00:28:11] it's it has totally changed the complexion of the project that I've undertaken here because for the first eight or nine years of it hard-working low-income people.
Sort of the backbone because and again this gets into a whole nother region of discussion. But one of the things that I'm trying to do is to be as green as I possibly can here, so I don't have air conditioning in my home. I don't have air conditioning in any of the homes that I own and I tried to solicit people as renters who were willing to live in a sort of much softer much Greener environment, but that has kind of Gone by the wayside.
It just has been difficult for me to find anybody. Last two or three years who isn't compromised. I mean it it is really hard to describe how [00:34:54] how significant this has been to most of the small towns that surround me out here it just and I mean all this we could talk about this is the subject of an entire different discussion, but it is the fact that the economic.
Situation has gotten to the point where they're just really isn't much hope for these people that there's going to be a better life down the road and at that point the opioid soothe the pain and and it I just it's going to be a real tough thing to try to break because it has become endemic to this whole area,
right and and so coming to you or I just like try it back to what you're saying about the air conditioning.
Like, how does that. Work in practice is like, you know, you throw the windows open in the morning and get some clear air through and then shut the wind when the sun comes, you know, fully up. Then you shut them and you keep the house keeps its cool that ways and they built that way. I mean, I guess we're talking starting to talk about the material building of the houses like, you know, what [00:35:54] goes into them.
Well, most of the houses that I own because they are very ancient do not have good insulation. But in the house for instance that I live in I have a fan here and I run the fan at night during the warm season. I start running. Maybe an hour or two after Sundown. I run it until about an hour or two before.
We actually you can go pretty much right up until sunup because the old adage that the coolest time of the day is right before Dawn is quite true that the air is materially you can smell it. I'm a night owl and so I normally go to bed just as the sun is coming up, but I have kind of at out last year.
We had lots of warm days and last year other than the exhaust fan that I ran. I do have another room fan that I. Using case the house gets warm that I am at myself and I never turn it on once the whole year. I really was pretty comfortable because it takes four or five hours after the fans quit for the house to start warming up and [00:36:54] by that time, I mean, I just honestly I have a fairly high tolerance for.
For heat, but it is not horribly uncomfortable the temperature never really during even the hottest time of the year exceeds about 75 to 77 degrees in the house and that's warm but it's certainly not unbearably warm. And so I'm pretty adamant that my life is not going to have air conditioning and I have a car which I run the same thing.
I bought it for $600 at os con as a matter of fact while I was there in 2014 and it has served me well and people say does it have air conditioning and my answer is always you know, I never tried because I don't believe in air-conditioning. So I never even hit the switch to see if it works in the five years.
I've had it.
Tim: [00:31:46] Yeah, I mean, I'm curious to know whether you because you're buying like. Older equipment and do then like actively monitor, you [00:37:54] know, this is this is failing or do you just like have enough stuff and bit of redundancy and just chill out about it?
Brian: [00:32:08] Like it's a joke. But it's surprising how little things fail.
Honestly. I have a have an open. Wrt. My one of my two main home networks here runs on an open wrt, which is running on a w RT at a router that probably was made in the 90s and and it has essentially failed. I can boot it and it runs for a while and it but it's routing function seems to run even though I can't log into it.
And so it's been running here as a zombie and one of these days I'll swap it. But it doesn't hurt anything and if it I need something critical that it needs to do I reach over and unplug it and let it boot back up again. And so yeah, it's a pretty laid-back thing that I don't have anything. That is so critical if it failed it would Mal affect my life to any serious degree except for my holy fiber [00:38:54] coming in from the from the local Telco at but I can't control that as it turns out.
They have a mandate from the FCC or FCC. If the power fails their unit here my telephone in my Fiber come in on the same box. And then somehow The Voice rides on the fiber till I gets here the battery backup that comes with it only backs up the voice because they have to supply voice just like a wire line would and so as soon as the power comes off here, my internet goes out.
And so that's the sort of big bad part of my having fiber here. Is that because it comes from Rural Telephone Company and because. Have to keep the voice lineup. They told me when they put it in. We've got four hours of battery backup here, but you get exactly zero minutes of it on your internet.
As soon as we detect a power fail. The internet goes down and there is nothing I can do about it that I know of because it's their box and it's a sealed box and I don't have access to anything inside it
Tim: [00:33:58] and it's not powered from [00:39:54] it's not powered from your electricity. The battery backup we're talking about is the far end of the connection presumably
Brian: [00:34:06] no, it's here.
It's here but it's their their box has both the fiber in the voice in the box and then it breaks out. You know, I have an ethernet connection on it. I also have a telephone connection on it, but their programming it has programmed it in such a fashion that the instant it detects a power outage on the line that is speeding from my house here the battery backup kicks in and kicks off the internet.
Which is horrible, but they told me that that requirement of the FCC and that so far. I mean, maybe they will have an option at some point that I can pick that up. But when my electricity goes out here my Fiber goes out right along with it, even though the telephone service stays up for as long as the battery stays up which is I think five or six hours.
Tim: [00:34:49] So, could you put that on a UPS?
Brian: [00:34:52] You know, I've never tried because as I told you here earlier in the conversation for some reason and I'm knocking on wood massively hear [00:40:54] it you we have dozens of power outages every summer during the storm season, but for the past two years, I don't think I've seen more than two hours and two years.
So it really hasn't been enough of a problem that I've tried to come up with a fix for it and. The another aspect of that is that the battery backup thing, you know when we're talking green those things aren't very green either and I was reminded that I taught at a college where I had lots of students who are very very aware of green and sustainability.
And one of the things that I got dinged on by my computer science students is we had quite an array of battery backups and they reminded me that those batteries that come out of those things were not recyclable that they were had to go to a landfill now that technology may have. Ancient you may know about it, but at least up until the 2012-13 that that was it except for we have a campus-wide battery.
Actually. It's on a generator system. But I've quit buying UPS's until I figure out exactly how to [00:41:54] do them green.
Tim: [00:36:01] Right, right. That's that's fascinating. I I mean I haven't again touching wood like you. I don't have a UPS because I kind of feel like feel like I don't need it. It hasn't cropped up often enough for me to feel like I need.
Although the interesting like UPS situation happening is that all of these electric cars that are floating around effectively. You can run your entire house off them for a day or two if you've got a Charged Up electric car in the garage. Then that's actually enough to to feed your electrical needs for a day or so of outage whether we see that as a product.
I don't know. I know the Japanese did it briefly when they were like having power problems. They mandated that all electric vehicles had to come with a I don't care if it was a hundred and ten or 240 volt socket when an inverter so that you could run your house off off it but [00:42:54] there's a kind of interesting.
Kind of green overlap there that if you've already got this this big bunch of batteries on Wheels than you may as well use it for other things as well. Just kind of. Fit
Brian: [00:37:13] it makes more sense. The sort of critical moment for me was one day at the college when there were was a recycle day and people brought in their dead UPS's and it just the sight of literally dozens and dozens and piled up there and at that time anyway, no one involved in the recycling program at the college had anything to do with them except to send them to a landfill and and my students were just aghast.
It's like what are we going to do about this? And so at that point I. Backed away from it. And again, maybe the technology has caught up because I've been out of the loop for a few years, but I don't I just right now just put up with it. Although I have before I have before set up my access point on a car battery and aimed it at one of my neighbors who had power.
I'm in [00:43:54] kind of a weird thing here where I'm right on the edge of a particular Loop. And so I had a neighbor who was helping me a couple years ago, and I helped him and so he had an access point sitting up on his grain system. And if one. We had an extensive power outage after an ice storm. I took a car out and parked at the edge of the driveway and aimed an antenna on the top of the car up his grain Tower and I got my internet for a couple days off the car like that.
Although it wasn't day in and day out. I'd take it down there when I needed it, but it did get me through.
Tim: [00:38:30] So just again like tracking back to that when you say pointed an access point of little access point like I'm trying to picture that you do you have like a dish antenna or do you have like, how does how does that like pointing thing work?
Brian: [00:38:48] Well, I used to use there were there were the standard I set up at one point gosh, and I can't even tell you how many years ago. This was it hasn't been a whole long time ago, but it also. Seems like [00:44:54] forever technology moves so quickly, but I built a pretty big Network on Farmers Grain legs. That is the the part at a farm that sticks up in the air where they have to raise a grain up in the air in order to drop it down into the various storage bins.
Most of those are 80 maybe seventy-five to a hundred feet in the air. And so at one point I had set up about 25 of those in different and make a deal with the farmer. I could sell internet to his neighbors and the farmer would get his internet for free and so our Hub was because I lived here and had to manage the network of farmer neighbor of mine put up an access point and he used it around his farm, but it was like the central access point for my whole network and he kept it running for several years after we eventually tore down.
It just was too difficult the too much other stuff runs on these grain legs that is 3 phase and and. And Motors it make all kinds of noise and it just turned out to be [00:45:54] well, it turned out the DSL killed us and pretty soon the DSL came everywhere. And so nobody was going to take a Wi-Fi connection that was coming off a Farmer's Grain leg if they could sign up for DSL and so we got out of that business, but for a while after that he kept his access point.
And in fact, we're in the point now of doing it we're redoing it and I will have it again as an option. And again, he lives across on a different Power Network. And so. It has been common for me to be out in him to be on or me to be on him to be out and he goes to bed early and I'm up late and so our lives sync pretty well in that state, but I have mean I have line of sight to I live in a little Hill and he lives on a bigger Hill and so it was kind of a I can't deny it Buzz to go out there and I'd park right at the end of my driveway and I could see his grain leg sitting up there and so I started out with a.
24db wire grid antenna, but eventually the little panel antenna has got to be [00:46:54] strong enough and much much much easier to aim, and I knew where to aim and where to set it up and I'd take it out on the hood of the car and I have a little set of Clips here that turned into my basically I clip them on to the car battery and then that can plug the access point into that and I'd be up and running in two minutes and not a huge amount of bandwidth.
But I mean, I wouldn't when the power is out. You really want to know? Life isn't normal. There's no lights on in the house or anything like that, but it was certainly enough for me to communicate with people. And actually I could make phone calls to although now, the cell phone is obviated the need for that and we forget or at least I forget to 10 years ago.
I didn't have a cell phone in 10 years ago. That landline was my was my lifeline.
Tim: [00:41:45] Yeah, I mean what one of the things that's kind of I'm hearing in this exchange is to do with like although we're talking. Think about tech and we're talking about the internet and and like big world-spanning projects like asterisk and [00:47:54] open wrt.
We're also talking about your very much about your local community and your. Local relationships with local farmers and and kind of almost like ad hoc not business. Well, some of them are businesses but like ad-hoc relationships enabling you to do this. How do you cultivate those relationships? How do those relationships happen?
Brian: [00:42:23] Well, that's you know in small communities. I'll never forget once back when Jimmy Carter was President. He had come from a small town in Georgia, and he and his wife were being interviewed on a network TV show and And the reporter looked at. Rosalyn and said so how are you adjusting now after you've come from a small town where you're living in the Fishbowl the White House and she looked at the reporter and she said honey.
She said it was a woman reporter. She said honey. She said I I come from Plains Georgia and she said I'm used to everyone knowing my business and that's really true. I mean in a small community [00:48:54] you can't hide from your neighbors. And so I just as the sort of normal back and forth that you get from people I wind up,
I've talked to my farmer friend and he's talks to me while you teach computer science and so on and so he proposed one day that we set up a I had the internet here. He did not have the internet of his farm. I said well if you let me put up an access point there so I can sell that off to other people and of course it was illegal.
My carrier reminded me right away that I was buying DSL and wasn't allowed to resell it and could because he heard through hey, everybody knows everybody see and so he heard through the my telephone. Actually owned by a pair of brothers, by the way. It's it's an incorporated company, but it's not a faceless entity.
It's a man. I know who who likes to make money off of me and I'm pretty happy now with the fiber but there were days when my happiness wasn't so great when he found out that I was selling some of the bandwidth I was buying from him. He reminded me my contract didn't allow that and [00:49:54] So eventually we bought commercial bandwidth.
We put up a point-to-point link and we bought commercial bandwidth in a town about 15 miles. Away, I mean this is the kind of stuff people do every day now, but we were doing it probably 15 years ago and at that time it was difficult, but it was a way more fun. It was it was wild west back that up.
Tim: [00:44:19] Yeah, and and like how did you get that relationship with somebody to put a point to point in 15 miles away I'd how was that? Did you just kind of go over there and say hi, you know want to do this or did you email them and I'm just interested in like the process of pushing technology forward seems to be very much kind of human based on particularly with kind of edgy project.
Brian: [00:44:45] Well, the deal was that we started by using the bandwidth. I had coming in here to the house. And I don't remember now. It's been many years ago, but it wasn't very much. But the idea that I had was that if once I shipped it over to his place with a [00:50:54] point-to-point link, then I could offer to people and back then, you know, it was much less Graphics much much less bandwidth demand than there is now so once we did it we proved they could be done and at that point I was using old.
Compact laptops. I want to say I was buying those on eBay as well paying maybe 75 or $100 a piece for them. Well, you get hungry for that bandwidth and there was an ISP in this town about 15 miles away and I literally drove around there and found a grain system at the edge of town and drove in the fellows driveway.
And I said, hey man, what would you like would you like internet? And in fact he knew what it was and wanted it and so once I talk to him than a deal we made was. We went to the town's ISP. There was a wire wire based ISP that had DSL within the town and so we bought a commercial DSL line and the farmer in this case.
He got used to the DSL as well. But we then ship that up into the [00:51:54] point-to-point brought the DSL back across here and I was legal at that point to sell it and and so. Will you do know who's who and soon farmers who wanted the internet contacted us? And and at one time we had about 900 square miles covered and had I think about a hundred and twenty different people who are accessing that and all that we did no advertising.
It was all just word of mouth and this farmer would see the antenna on that Farmers Grain leg and asked what it was doing and. And and there was a very exciting experience, but it because those things were sticking up into the air and because there are storms all the time and it just it became a nightmare for me.
We I had an automated network monitoring system that if any link went down would call me. Using asterisk. It would make a phone call to me and the eventually, you know in the storm season I'd be awakened night after night after night. And so it got kind of old but it was all done amongst friends and I still [00:52:54] am I just got a card from one of my customers and I probably haven't seen him in person for ten years and my mother passed away the spring and and earlier and when she did he sent me a card and told me he said, you know at those days were some of the best days of my life even though every time there was a storm.
Go to bed praying that the internet would be up in the morning when I got up but he said man it we were we were the first ones there and and that part I'm kind of proud of because this was before there was any DSL anywhere around here and of course now, there's all kinds of bandwidth. But again in my new house that I bought over there, there's no Internet available from anybody.
It's out in a desert and so there's still plenty of deserts and and then so again, I'm working with the egg farmer that we may try to ship me bandwidth. And it would hop across several of his egg Farms before it finally got to me, but in each case it would set up on top of the grain handling system at the elevator and that's exactly what he's doing and he's turned it into a fairly lucrative business.
Tim: [00:47:59] That's cool. [00:53:54] Let's really cool. So I guess we're kind of hitting just about the right amount of time now, which is brilliant. So like looking to the Future what excites you what kind of Technology. Or social impact you think excites you now, what are your current forward-looking projects?
Brian: [00:48:21] Well, I I guess the bottom line for me is that I have become more and more convinced that that circumstances are going to cause us to have to start doing a lot more sustainable things in the future.
And and right now I'm looking. The interesting thing about the new place that I bought it was built in 1916 by a Visionary man who was a banker and a grain Trader, but he also was a small farmer and he built this Homestead in 1916 to be entirely self-sufficient and and and including. It actually had its own water.
And I mean, I don't think this will be a surprise and I don't know [00:54:54] how it's done in Europe, but it had two Water Systems. It was designed the house was designed by an architect and it had two completely separate Water Systems. One of which was driven by a pump that pump water out of the ground is is typical but the other one collected rainwater off the roof into a separate holding tank and there was a completely separate distribution of this rain water what he.
All the soft water system. And so one of the things that I'm hoping to do here and you probably know this but there's been a lot of lot a lot of technology has moved into Agriculture. And so I have begun a small garden over there right now with an eye toward each year in proving it and increasing it and I see things like soil temperature monitoring meteorological forecasting where I could put sensors out and try to do some of my own micro.
forecasting and things like that. I'm hoping to bring some technology into this as well because it's one of the more interesting [00:55:54] aspects of what I've done is that I'm kind of melding traditional structures that have been around Farm territory forever and everyone takes for granted with high technology things that we are able to sort of morph onto the existing infrastructure.
And so I'm really interested like I'm going to be keeping chickens there and we've already looked into a system that is able to open and close the chicken house door automatically. Look for pests that like raccoon are horrible pests of chickens and and set up a monitoring system where a motion detector would waken someone in the house when a raccoon comes near the chicken house things like that, and I'm really it'll be fun and it will be high-tech and it'll be a chance for me to apply what I've done with technology to an entirely new realm.
Tim: [00:50:46] That's cool. So I had to two things to say on that which I think are like one which is like ran across an interesting paper about being able to detect rainfall by the signal fade on Wi-Fi [00:56:54] links, but specifically microwave links. So with your your egg Farm Network, you could look at the the drop in in signal strength.
And deduce you use from that that it was raining over that link?
Brian: [00:51:14] I know. I don't know if I would be here to feel but I would be really surprised if the farmer that I'm talking about who does this isn't aware of that because he has he has really set up an amazing Network and as just one example. He has a farm which is at the intersection.
We're about six or eight months ago. There was a horrible accident and the driver who caused the accident hit and ran and everyone was gnashing their teeth over the fact there was a woman killed as part of all this and she was very well known in the community and Robert my friend, the egg farmer winds up calling up the sheriff a couple days later and he said, you know, I have a loop and I run that Loop 8 hours at a time off the tower there and it's feeding back [00:57:54] he feeds back from.
His different Farms to a central place. So he actually has a night Watchman who is watching 14 or 15 farms at a time and he's watching through cameras that are all articulated and controllable from his central office, which is about from here 200 miles away. And he was able to supply to the police a loop of that night's activity at that intersection and they found the man who was by that time had driven far away and was several states away and they found it because.
Tape that this guy did with this Wi-Fi camera that he had sitting up on top of his grain elevator.
Tim: [00:52:36] That's cool. That's that's impressive use of technology. That is yeah. So I mean the other thing that fun that you might want to look at is that localized image recognition is getting better and better so you could probably put a raccoon detector that actually could tell the difference between a raccoon and a chicken.
Brian: [00:52:55] I think that the software that I'm using right now. We'll do that. [01:45:37] Although I must admit I haven't played with it for quite a while but it does definitely have a it has it you can train it on images. So yeah so that I haven't played with it much because I haven't needed it much. I mean at the time that I kept chickens here 20 years ago.
There was this technology didn't exist. But that is definitely one of the things that I can't wait to try to do because it would be very very much better to do that than to have. You know, for every cat that walked by the place to freak out and wake me up because that was a problem with the Wi-Fi.
I didn't get very many false alarms usually but it was amazing with 900 square miles anytime. It would storm anywhere. I could be certain that one or another of this Farms are going to wind up getting hit by lightning because. It was like a whole series of lightning rods up across the whole Midwest and right and so do not miss those days at all.