Thoughts on old printers, and boondock wireless

I’m currently on the first leg of a roundabout run to Eugene for the holiday. As much as I might have hoped for a nice, non-technical few days, it’s become a busman’s holiday. Warning – geeky bits ahead.

There is one problem with the holiday plan. Just as doctors at cocktail parties are sometimes buttonholed by folks with “Hey, Doc… I got this here…” questions, I occasionally get a “Hey, you’re a computer guy. What …” question.

The first one was fairly straightforward. I had to convince an old (ca. 1997) LaserJet to play nicely on a new network. The old beast is a great printer – it’s still going strong after 300000+ pages, even though it appears to have been stored under less-than-ideal conditions. This one basically required a lot of temporary reconfiguration of network settings. What finally made it work, though, was the mere threat of connecting it via parallel cable. I got one end connected, and suddenly the printer decided it did, after all, wish to communicate over ethernet.

The second question was a bit more complicated. Our friends at Windward have buldings which are fairly well spread out on the slope of a hill, with some over another hill. They’ve had an unfortunate incident with a backhoe, which has cut a conduit full of ethernet wiring. The net effect is that the buildings up the hill no longer have internet access.

The cable broke in such a way that it would be time- and cost-prohibitive to dig the trench until the break is locaed and repair it, so they’re considering trying to extend their wireless capability from it’s current location at the dining hall to the isolated outbuildings. In addition, there are thoughts of extending the wireless to 1 or 2 (or more) other clusters of buildings. These are not in the same direction, and they are all in the 3-600 foot range, or possibly a bit farther.

This one, I did not have a quick fix for. I’m researching various antenna options. It looks as if we’ll probably need a combination of a high-gain omnidirectional antenna on the existing wireless router just to beef it up, and wireless ethernet bridges on the satellite locations paired with high-gain directional antennas.

While there are suppliers who will provide such things, the prices are more than the shoestring budget we have to work with. Ideally, we’d like to do this with mostly found and re-purposed materials.

Here’s a few of the bits and pieces that have caught my eye so far:

Here’s a “Yagi-Uda” antenna similar to the old TV aerials of past years. This one is about $120.

Here’s a dish antenna from D-Link. It’s 21dB, which is pretty respectable, but it’s also pricy, at about $350 or more.

As it turns out, there are a couple of unused DishTV style antennas on the property. I may experiment with modifying these. It should take some connectors, copper wire, and a copper sheet or two.