Fun With Motel Kiosks (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 27 Mar 2007

Fun With Motel Kiosks

The wireless network was messed up at the Super-8. No surprise there -- Super-8 motels always have flaky wireless. But last night's wi-fi travails were quite a bit more interesting than the usual story.

When we checked in, the sign at the desk saying "We know the wi-fi is flaky; you've been warned, no refunds", wasn't encouraging. We needed some information from the web fairly quickly, so rather than futz with trying to get the motel system to work we headed over to the public library, where I got re-acquainted with the travails of browsing circa 1999 by using their slow link and Internet Explorer. How do people live without being able to open lots of search results in multiple tabs? And hitting return didn't work in any search fields. Eesh.

I was also amused to find that when I searched on terms related to IRS and tax information, several of the results brought up a page saying they were blocked by the library's firewall. Wouldn't want anyone looking at that sort of smut on public library machines!

Anyway, after dinner we had time to fiddle with the hotel wi-fi. When we couldn't get a reliable signal in the room, we carted our laptops down to the lobby to see if things were better there. They weren't.

But the single public lobby workstation was free (showing a myspace page), so we decided to try that and see if it worked any better than our laptops. Nope.

But something about the throbber in the lobby workstation's browser seemed familiar to me. That's not IE ... it's not firefox either ... Why, it's konqueror! But ... doesn't that mean ...?

We tried browsing to a few familiar file paths, like /etc/fstab, and sure enough, the lobby workstation was running linux (Slackware). We played filename guessing games for a bit before discovering Tools->Open Terminal. That wasn't very reliable, though -- it seemed to have a redraw problem and it was hard to get past that. (Later I found an alternative elsewhere in the Konqueror menus, "Show Terminal Emulator". I'm not clear on why Konqueror needs two different terminal emulators, but it was helpful here.)

Then I experimentally typed "whoami" and discovered that we were root. How handy!

It turned out that the machine was running a live CD based distro. Dave stumbled on /etc/issue, which began with the lines:

:: WHAX 1.0 -- Dev Edition:

User : root
Pass : toor

If you use this CD not for development purposes, remember to change passwords!

Great fun! And we played around with the machine for a bit. But alas, none of this helped with the net -- the WHAX box was just as much a victim of the network as we were.

After a brief delay to admire the bright yellow Sunbeam Alpine that pulled up on a trailer outside the registration desk (the folks playing poker at the next table had never seen a Sunbeam before), Dave took to the parking lot with his laptop looking for a stronger signal. (He can do this with his Prism2 card while I can't with my Prism54. Why is it that every Linux wi-fi driver has a completely different set of supported operations?) Does it still count as war-walking if you're just looking for a working connection for a net you've paid for?

He found the strongest signal at the Travelodge next door (the net is shared between the two motels), just outside the metal door marked "DISCONNECT MAIN ELECTRIC".

I guess whoever set up this network decided that the perfect place to put a radio transmitter was in the electric main box surrounded by lots of metal and current-carrying wires. Not being an RF engineer myself, somehow that would not have occurred to me as the ideal spot. But what do I know?

[ 21:28 Mar 27, 2007    More tech | permalink to this entry | ]

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