Show Sidebar Log in

Over 50? Use the net? Read on…

The Silver Surfer Awards 2007 are now open for entries, looking for outstanding internet users over the age of 50 across the UK. The awards, now in their 6th year, highlight older peoples’ contributions to cyberspace to inspire anyone thinking about using the internet or email for the first time (and if my Mum can master it at 73, there’s no reason you youngsters cannot – Ed.).

The annual awards, which are organised by Digital Unite (formerly and supported by BT, highlight remarkable Silver Surfers who prove you are never too old to learn. The awards are part of the 2007 Silver Surfers’ Day campaign, which is being promoted by jointly Digital Unite and Ofcom.

Emma Solomon, Managing Director of Digital Unite, said: “Internet skills are a vital part of everyday life and these awards celebrate those who are an inspiration to others to get online. Last year’s winner, 77 year old Jim Tuckwell from Andover in Hampshire, used his internet skills to work with local children on an anti-bullying campaign – an exemplary example of a Silver Surfer who uses the internet for the benefit of others.”

“We want to hear stories that will motivate others to have a go at getting online”, continued Solomon, “Whether it is about keeping in touch with family or friends abroad, sharing knowledge to help others get online, or using the internet to campaign for change in the local community, we want to hear your story.”

The Silver Surfer of the Year, and Silver Surfer Entrepreneur of the Year will each win a top of the range laptop and the Silver Surfer Event holder of the year will win £500 in IT vouchers. There will also be two Silver Surfer of the Year runners-up, who will each receive£250 in IT vouchers. The conditions and nomination forms for the awards are posted on the Silver Surfers’ Day site.

Research shows that young people often help or encourage Silver Surfers. To recognise their work, entries are being sought for the 2007 BT Internet Rangers awards – a nationwide hunt for young internet teachers.

Entry to the Internet Rangers awards is via the BT Internet Rangers website and can be either a short written submission, a podcast or a photo movie telling what the Internet Ranger is doing to help others get online. There will be 10 runners-up, who will each win a top of the range laptop, whilst the overall winner will receive a laptop and £250 of IT vouchers.

Candidates for the Silver Surfer Awards and BT Internet Ranger Awards can nominate themselves or be nominated by friends and family. The deadline for entries to the Silver Surfer Awards is 18 July 2007 and that for the BT Internet Ranger of the Year awards is September 1, 2007 respectively. In October 2007 Stephen Timms MP will host a special joint award ceremony for the lucky winners at the House of Commons.

An evening of Cubism

On Sunday, 16th June Bristol Wireless held a wee celebration at Bristol’s Cube Microplex to mark the entry into its 6th year of operations (news passim).

The event itself was preceded by Bristol Wireless’ AGM (over in a very acceptable 35 minutes!) and preparations for opening the doors to the public at 5 pm-ish; audio and streaming kit was set up in the Cube’s bar, whilst the main auditorium hosted a 12 client LTSP suite.

Ben G and cantenna LTSP at the Cube Hamish and Mike streaming from the Cube Lloyd at the controls

First out of the blocks was a series of films outlining Bristol Wireless’ first 5 years of work, including the 90 second challenge film and coverage of the 2005 HesFes event. This was followed by a short series of talks, where the speakers included Ben Green, Mike Harris and Rich Higgs.

After the formal bit in the auditorium, everyone adjourned to the bar, where the sounds of Woodsy on the decks were streamed via Radio Vague until the Cube’s friendly bar staff called time.

It was good to see some faces from the local Linux User Group there and photos of the event are available on Flickr.

Free software – you can’t give it away!

On Thursday 21 June, Bristol Wireless’ Bails and Rich Higgs attended the Connecting South West Conference in Taunton organised by the SWRDA on the future of ICT support for business. This event considered recent changes and developments in the provision and delivery of ICT support in the South West of England and was opened by Fabian King, SWRDA’s Head of Regional ICT, with an address on the importance of ICT support to the regional economy. Bristol Wireless were billed to speak last, right after David Overton, the man from Microsoft small business solutions.

Rich writes:

“Our presentation focused on the what is open source, why we use Linux. We discussed LTSP and the power saving, security, flexibility, interoperability and the huge range of software available. We then went on to talk about extending the useful life of hardware, cost savings compared per seat licensing, scalability, hot desking, ease of administration, speed and reliability. We cited some global roll outs of LTSP, e.g. Telecentros in Brazil, which has some 18,000 terminals installed.

The presentation moved onto open standards in VoIP and the importance of SIP phone systems. Moving on to CMS and CRM packages, we explained how we’ve integrated Asterisk with Drupal and CiviCRM into our telephone system and database. As a demonstration I dialled the Bristol Wireless lab from my mobile and my record popped up on screen at the conference.

We ended with a bit of a round table discussion with Microsoft’s David Overton and ourselves taking questions from the floor. We were asked why we wanted to integrate our phones with our database when some telephone systems don’t send caller ID….. Well ours does!

There’s a lot of things I wished I’d said, but didn’t think of at the time. The general feeling of the conference was that selling proprietary software is better for business…. but there was no mention of whose business!

Bristol Wireless is currently working on more presentations with the aim of organising our own open source for business conference in the near future. The focus will be a more user-orientated approach.

Now we are six… nearly

Bristol Wireless warmly invites all interested in its work and free/open source software to the Cube Cinema in Dove Street on Sunday, 17th June to celebrate more than 5 years’ activities in Bristol.

Starting at 5 pm, Bristol Wireless will be showing all aspects of its work, including historic video footage of past achievements, the mobile LTSP suite and our £50 internet-ready refurbished computers. In addition, our friends and supporters from Radio Vague will also be broadcasting their regular Sunday Roast internet radio show from the Cube, featuring their line-up of local DJs, some of whom are also Bristol Wireless volunteers and will be swapping mouse and keyboard for vinyl and the wheels of steel.

Wifi antenna with free whisky
When we were young – a ‘cantenna’ from the good old days.

This will be a fond return to the Cube for Bristol Wireless, which held an inaugural event there shortly after its foundation in 2002.

Hope to see you there.

$99 for solar-powered wifi repeater

Meraki Networks, pioneer of the first consumer wireless mesh internet network designed to “unwire the world”, today announced the new Meraki Outdoor repeater and the Meraki Solar accessory, that together can cover entire neighbourhoods with wifi access.

Priced at $99 (that’s £50 in real money), Meraki Outdoor can transmit a signal up to 700 feet. When coupled with Meraki’s existing indoor $49 Mini, the Meraki Outdoor repeater can power access for dozens of households sharing one high speed connection. Meraki Outdoor can be easily mounted on a wall or a pole outside the house. According to the company, it marks another step forward in Meraki’s efforts to change the economics of wifi access, reducing the cost per household of high speed connections to $1 to $2 a month.

Read the full story on Meraki’s website.

BW network streams Venn Festival all over the place

Mike Harris writes:

Did you know that Bristol Wireless is involved in a project called XtreamLab along with Psand, Micro-Film and the Venn Festival organisers?

As part of the project we’re streaming 3 events for 3 days during Bristol’s Venn Festival and have a nice new website where you can find details, plus information on the line-up and streams.

This has all been made possible with BW’s network and the installation of a temporary link between the Arnolfini and Watershed that Rich Higgs and Matt Leonard got working yesterday and then a tweaked with the gracious help of Matt from BMEX and Oliver from the Watershed, to whom many thanks are due.

To find out what’s going on, there’s also a Google Map for reference.

To watch or listen in, there are a few options:

  • Video: rtsp:// is a Quick Time stream that may work for you in VLC and definitely works using QT Player 7;
  • Audio: is OGG/Vorbis which should work for most, but then there’s also that is in MP3 for the rest;
  • Finally, if you frequent Second Life, you can teleport to Calamaro Planet on the Isle of Prosperity on

Anyway, Mike is looking forward to seeing you all at the Arnolfini on Friday and Sunday and between the Cube and the Croft on Saturday.

Five into two does go… virtually!

Last week Ben Green completed a large job which has seen our inventory of servers at St Werburghs Community Centre drop from 5 to 2 machines.

Bristol Wireless recently consolidated a whole stack of servers into two new boxes using Linux-Vserver technology. We hope to save power and time, whilst providing a much faster service with better redundancy. Vserver is a kernel patch that allows one machine to appear to be any number of “virtual private servers”, which appear to become computers in their own right.

Redundant servers Ying & Yang

The pictures (courtesy of Ben Green) show the stack of redundant kit and two new servers – called Yin and Yang (Yang is on the left in the picture).

“Once upon a time when someone wanted to run something on a server at Bristol Wireless”, said Ben, “we used to say ‘go and find a box from the scrap computer pile and install an operating system on it’. Each box took power, gathered dust and generally got in the way. The boxes would fail and need re-building. The whole process was a real faff.”

“With our new Linux-Vserver install a new virtual server can be installed with just one command and it takes about 2 minutes,” he continued.

Ben says that creating new virtual servers is easy, but he wondered how could we duplicate our old services without extensive re-installation. However, he discovered this turned out to be as easy for most servers as moving all the files across and starting them up as virtual servers.

The LTSP suite took a bit more messing, with the services it was running needing access to some low-level resources not normally allowed for a standard vserver. However, the flexibility of the Linux-Vserver permissions system meant this was as easy as adding a list of needed resources and reboot the virtual server (which, unlike a real machine’s install, takes about 20 seconds).

Thanks to a lot of hard work and the invaluable support from the Linux-Vserver community, all five old servers could be moved to one box running Debian GNU/Linux. The second server is intended to help us split out LTSP services and keep all our terminals going in event of a hardware failure, but currently it just mirrors the other server ready to step in if there is a problem. Around 15 terminals run from the new server, so it’s crucial to have a drop-in replacement. In the past we haven’t had one, leaving us a bit vulnerable.

The original servers took about 800 W of continuous power to run. This is now down to 280 W and will get even lower when the motherboards in our new servers are made to use the power scaling features (omissions in the Asus BIOS don’t allow this at the moment). We expect to have the idling power use down to 180 W at that time. This is one fifth of the previous total.

The new servers run on dual core AMD FX-62 processors, which are jolly fast. Even with 7 virtual servers running on just one of these, all the services are much much faster. Compared to when we where using old boxes from skips to fulfil our server needs, the new box goes like a rocket. It’s much better for our developers and takes very little power for a new server, just a bit of RAM.

Ben has also done a technical write-up here.

Dates for your diary

There are a couple of events coming up later this week if you are at a loose end in Bristol.

Friday 25th May sees the annual return of Silver Surfers’ Day (SSD). SSD is an opportunity for everyone to do something practical to help older people (aged 50+) join the digital age. So far the SSD website has one event listed for Bristol at Lawrence Weston Library, BS11 0NT (map) from 10 am to 12 noon. Booking is required; contact Vicki Bowd on 0117 3125696). If you’re outside Bristol, you can find your nearest Silver Surfers’ event by visiting this page.

On Saturday 26th May Jake Subs and Raymond Brooks will be giving a free demonstration of free and open source music software over at our friends, The Cube Microplex, Dove Street, Bristol (directions) between 1 pm and 3 pm. Amongst the goodies being demonstrated will be BpmDj (free DJ tools for Linux) – shame I’ll be away 🙁

Japanese government contemplates open source

Linuxworld reports that the Japanese government wants to use open source to reduce its reliance on a single vendor IT software infrastructure.

A consortium of 10 major suppliers including Oracle, NEC, IBM, HP, Hitachi and Dell is being formed to develop and sell Linux servers and computers to the Japanese market. This follows the Japanese government’s announcement of its wish to make Linux and open source a priority for all IT procurements from July 2007. The government says it plans to spend around 1.25 trillion yen (£5.24 bn) on IT over the next year. The government has said explicitly it wants to decrease its reliance on Microsoft as a server platform.

Read the original article.

Windows Vista – the true cost

Here at the lab, we’re busy preparing a new server for an LTSP install for CSV Environment. Of course, we had to buy the box in – this time from Dell – paying the inevitable ‘Windows tax’ in the process since it came with an unwanted copy of Windows Vista and we intended to feed it Debian instead. Left with a superfluous Microsoft operating system on our hands, we thought we’d like to try and get a refund for it and were pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness of Dell’s customer support line, which we had to call if we did not accept the Windows and/or Dell software licences (there was no ‘I do not agree’ option on the licence page :-().

Anyway, our efforts proved successful. After a couple of calls to customer service on Friday, we obtained a refund from Dell for the unwanted software (Vista and MS Works). The big surprise was the refund we were offered: a mere £17 for Vista and £6 for Works.

Since Friday we’ve received the following confirmation email from Dell:

Dear Mr Rossiter,
I’m pleased to tell you that I have successfully concluded your case by refunding 23 pounds back into your account and please do reply incase [sic] of any queries, and have logged it with the following details: My Name: [removed to protect the helpful].
Please mail me back if you feel the issue is not resolved to your Complete Satisfaction. We pride ourselves on the quality of our Customer Service, if the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction please contact my supervisor: [name removed]
Dell Customer Care

We’d like to thank Dell UK for their co-operation and being so helpful, as well as ask them a final question: when will you be following your US colleagues and offering Linux notebooks and desktops? Make it soon please!

New chat channel added, one of Bristol Wireless’ supporters, is now hosting and supporting #openitup, the IRC chat channel launched as part of the Openitup initiative funded by the National Computing Centre and the National ICT Hub. One promise from Openitup was to establish a channel of support voluntary sector workers could go to get real-time support and advice when planning for and using Linux desktops and servers and also a virtual meeting place for practitioners to learn and swap ideas while supplying immediate voluntary support to visitors that request help.

The OpenItup project was imaginatively funded by the Home Office’s ChangeUp programme through the ICTHub to meet the needs of those groups and individuals in the voluntary sector who were attempting to create models for sustainable computing using open source software, which unfortunately has had its funding cut.

The resources developed during the lifetime of the project are still available at the Openitup website and plans and suggestions for building on the legacy are now in the hands of the IctHub – so watch this space.

In the meantime, Bristol Wireless volunteers and collaborating practitioners from across the UK welcome all visitors to #openitup and hope we can develop this useful resource pending fuller funding of open source initiatives within the voluntary sector.

To connect to the channel go to and select the Chat link on the home page, then select #openitup from the drop-down channel menu to log in.

See you there!

The Bristol Wireless Crew.

Is home-made best?

cantennaFollowing a talk down the pub the other night, Mike Harris of Psand went and checked the unused, 5 years old, home-made wireless cantenna on the roof of his current digs that used to connect to Bristol Wireless’ network and it still worked!

Anyway, here’s the story in his own words:

Hi All,

Just thought you’d all be interested to know that today I connected up to the ECC and got on Bristol Wireless using the famous first “cantenna” that we every put up, made out of a tin that J&B whiskey comes out of by Dave Gough at Psand and the one that features in the old trusty article at !

Having been put up in 2002 (May or July I think), it went out of service some time in 2003 and today I dug out an N-type to Buffalo-style pigtail I have, and got on-line by connecting to the bw-ecc AP (after finding another two out there as well). The antenna is still in the exact same position as can be seen here.

A little rustier but nonetheless functional. Gave me a link quality of 18/92, not really high but enough.

Proof is sort of:

eth4 IEEE 802.11b ESSID:”bw-ecc” Nickname:”HERMES I” Mode:Managed Frequency:2.422 GHz Access Point: 00:0B:6B:4F:53:

Being as I was there at the beginning when we put the node up, I felt a warm glow of nostalgia. We’ll have it in operation from now on as our connection to the BW network.

I’m going to take a photo of it as it now is and update the BW article and the how to build a cantenna article with it. Perhaps we can get on Slashdot again eh?

Any old Buffalo base stations or DEC multias kicking around to connect to it perchance?



Thanks for the news Mike! You’ve thrown down a few challenges there.

Nowadays we’re using commercially made antennae for connection. However, the old whiskey tin did have certain benefits, especially for lovers of single malt scotch. 🙂

Update 28/04/07: Mike informs us he intends to give the cantenna a bit of a workout this coming weekend by using it for streaming Radio Vague’s occasional Sunday Roast spot!

Breakthrough by Bristol Wireless

Bristol Wireless is well known in the open source world for its love of playing with the bleeding edge of technology and this occasionally has some unexpected benefits. One of these is that today we publicly announce the development of a new networking protocol – WCTP – or wireless cider transmission protocol.

Almost since its 5.8G backbone infrastructure was completed, Bristol Wireless has had engineer working on it in secret to develop the new protocol, which allows cider and perry to be transferred between computers over a network. Steve Woods, a spokesman for Bristol Wireless, said: “This is a major breakthrough for us, combining as it does two of Bristol Wireless’ favourite subjects, wireless networking and cider. It means that if you cannot get out for a pint, the pub can come to you instead – provided you have a working network connection.”

“We worked in secret on this one as I’m sure you can understand,” continued Woods. “We did have one minor disaster during development and testing when the link between two infrastructure points went down over the Council House, showering it and its inhabitants with scrumpy . Fortunately, no changes were noticed in the behaviour of elected councillors and council officers”.

Those wanting full details of wctp can either visit its web page or contact us.
Finally, Bristol Wireless is grateful to the developers of uubp (Unix to Unix beer protocol) for their pioneering work in this field.

National Deposit gets friendly with Bristol Wireless

Our thanks are due to National Deposit Friendly Society, a mutual friendly society based in Clifton and providing personal insurance and finance products, who have kindly donated a number of PC’s, laptops and printers to Bristol Wireless. They were donated due to one of their employees, Clare Stevenson, being aware of our project. She has worked hard in securing their release to us through our associates Byteback of Hartcliffe, who specialise in computer recycling.

In total we were donated 33 PC’s, 13 laptops and 26 printers. The printers and PC’s will be refurbished and redistributed throughout the community, whilst the laptops will go into one of our LTSP suites for mobile computing and training.

Our man in London writes

Richard Higgs reports:

“Sam Rossiter, Mike Harris of Psand and myself went to the Emirates Stadium for the second ICT Hub National Conference with about 270 reps from the voluntary sector. The day was organised into workshops and presentations for various levels of ICT skills. Some of the speakers were there to promote open source, including East of England FOSS, who did a good job of describing their training and circuit riding activities.

“Matthew Edmundson from the ICT Hub lead a session making the most of your ICT budget. He invited Bristol Wireless and Psand to talk about the OSS they use on a day-to-day basis. Sam talked about LTSP and Mike spoke about his professional web services, CMS and open source hosting, whilst I talked about VoIP and some of the pitfalls. The session was well received, we managed to promote the aims and goals of Bristol Wireless. I’m sure we will be contacted for some work. One of the delegates remarked this session was ‘the best session all day’.

“The day finished with wine and awards; Bristol Wireless got a special mention :). We went for a beer with the organisers for an hour after the event. They all seemed very pleased with the turn out. Nicola, the Head of the ICT Hub was wearing a Tux badge all day.”

ICT Hub plays away at Arsenal

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Hub is holding its second annual conference for the voluntary sector on Wednesday, 28th March at the Emirates Stadium* in London.

Whilst recognising that people’s skills and knowledge vary, the ICT Hub nevertheless expects this one-day conference will:

  • Encourage delegates to think about the bigger picture;
  • Provide useful tips and suggestions;
  • Point delegates in the right direction for help;
  • Look at funding and managing ICT budgets; and
  • Even help with income generation!

This conference is aimed at small and medium-sized organisations that provide direct services but need some encouragement and guidance in their technology use.

The day is split into presentations and workshops: the latter are designed for differing levels of ICT knowledge. For full details look at the conference programme.

The conference will end with a drinks reception, followed by presentations to the winners of the ICT Hub National Awards.

As this item goes to press, the ICT Hub’s home page is still advertising that limited places are still available. As you only have a day, hurry up and book if you fancy going.

Bristol Wireless will be heading there with 3 envoys – Rich, Sam and Mike – to help fly the flag of free software. Back at the lab we’ve spent the last fortnight preparing our literature and goodies. A report of the event will follow later this week.

* “Terror incognita” to Spurs fans! Ed.😉

Psst! Wanna PC for 50 notes?

One of the founding principles of Bristol Wireless has been to extend the life of computer hardware and the latest manifestation of this is that, in collaboration with Byteback, we are now able to offer the public fully functioning, refurbished PCs for the ridiculously cheap price of £50.


All the machines have a thorough health check before being installed with a Debian Linux operating system, featuring our own recommended set of software to cover most users’ needs, including office tools (word processing, presentation, spreadsheets and page layout), graphics web browsing, email, instant messenging, chat and multimedia (audio and video) programs. Our software guide gives an idea of the packages that are installed.

The individual machine specification may vary, but they come with a minimum of a Pentium III processor, with a decent-sized hard drive, 256 MB of memory, and your usual 17 inch monitor, keyboard and mouse to make the box actually usable.

Refurbishing PCs

Bristol Wireless’ Sam Rossiter says: “Even though computer hardware prices are at an all-time low, there are still plenty of people who want a really low-cost machine. They are ideal for introducing kids to computers as they also include some games. Despite being so cheap they are powerful enough to do more sophisticated tasks for which we also install software. We’ve been working working hard to ensure a steady supply of machines and our crew of Everton, Andy and Mike have been working hard to get this project off the ground”.

Linux has lower system requirements than some other operating systems and can therefore extend the working life of hardware which would otherwise be discarded. In the UK over a million tonnes of electrical and electronic goods are discarded each year.

By offering refurbished machines, Bristol Wireless is helping with the aims of the European WEEE Directive by reducing the waste arising from electronic equipment and encouraging its reuse, recovery, recycling and sound environmental disposal.

If you’d be interested in a machine or want more details please contact us.

LTSP at the Hub

On Wednesday 8th March 2007, Bristol Wireless, ably assisted by Westcom, went as exhibitors to the ICT Hub Regional Conference in Taunton for the voluntary sector. Attending as exhibitors, we took along the mobile LTSP suite (this time 12 terminals), VoIP telephones and lots of information about free and open source software and piles of Linux and open source CDs to give away.

Before the banner went up A close-up of the switch LTSP suite in use

Anyway, it proved to be a valuable day in many ways with lessons for future outings and we certainly felt our presence was worthwhile. Indeed, Rich Higgs came back with more than he left Bristol with, having won a USB pen drive in the closing feedback form raffle. A pictorial record of our visit can be seen on your correspondent’s Flickr pages.

As this piece is being drafted, moves are underway to get a presence at the national ICT Hub conference in London at the end of the month.

Congratulations Sunderland, commiserations Bristol

Sunderland has been revealed as the Government’s Digital Challenge competition winner and will receive £3m to deliver its plans for a digitally enabled community to benefit some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded people in the area.

As the winner of the Digital Challenge, Sunderland is now recognised as an example in how ICT can be used to tackle social exclusion.

Sunderland’s proposals will see the community benefiting from initiatives such as Community e-Champions working locally to help vulnerable people access computer and internet services, helping children failing at school and an e-mentoring scheme working for children and young people. The bid will also meet the needs of carers and children in care through a walkie-talkie (just one? Ed.) and panic buttons.

The Digital Challenge saw cities, towns and regions outline their visions for a digitally enabled society designed to meet the needs of local communities and citizens better. Since the finalists, which included Bristol, were announced last year, the 10 regional partnerships have been working together under the DC10 name.

Minister for Local e-Government, Angela Smith, said: “Digital inclusion is about more than new technologies. It is an opportunity to solve problems and improve the lives of people in our communities. As the winner of the Digital Challenge, Sunderland should be seen as an example of how the social and digital divide can be bridged and serve as a blueprint for future local partnerships.

“All the finalists have led the way in the UK and should be seen as true regional digital inclusion champions. Together as the new DC10 they will continue to galvanise thinking, unleash creativity and raise the agenda both locally and nationally.”

With the ten finalists moving from being competitors to collaborators, the Digital Challenge has demonstrated how a cross-Government, cross-sector initiative can flourish.

Bouquet for Bristol Wireless

In the last week Bristol Wireless received the following email from Michelle Edmundson of the ICT Hub.

Many thanks for applying for the ICT Hub Awards.

This was the first year the awards took place and we received 130 entries. The entries have provided some valuable case studies for others to learn from and it is great to see what the voluntary sector is doing with ICT.

We are delighted to inform you that your application form was highly recommended and receives a special mention. We will send you a certificate at the end of March after the winners have been announced for you to display in recognition of your achievement and your application will be written up as a case study to feature on our website for others to learn from.

A panel of judges marked the applicants on the same set of criteria. The scores were then collated to find an overall winner and commended entries. We are not able to comment on each application.

Information about the award winners will be published at the end of March on our website at

We thank you again for your entry.

Kind regards

Michelle Edmundson”

The ICT Hub is a consortium of voluntary sector organisations planning and providing a co-ordinated framework of ICT guidance, good practice, advice and support for voluntary and community organisations that is accessible at local level.