Make Your Own PirateBox Workshop Report

We held the Make Your Own PirateBox Workshop this morning, as scheduled, in Confederation Landing Park. Six people registered for the workshop: of these, two people sent regrets at the last minute and one person didn’t show up, so total attendance was four, including me.

We gathered under the gazebo at the end of the park, which turned out to be a great location, given that it was a sunny, breezy late-summer day.  After chatting about PirateBox in general for 20 minutes, we dove in an set out to make ourselves some PirateBoxes.

Among the bumps we encountered along the way:

  • Several of the PirateBox installation steps require the router to be tethered via wired Ethernet cable to a host PC; modern Macs don’t have a built-in Ethernet port, and so unless you bring the “dongle” that adds and Ethernet port, your PC can’t be used for this step. This was an error I made at PirateBox Camp in Berlin last month – I left the dongle for my MacBook Air back here in PEI – and it was something that one of our number forgot this morning.
  • Unless you do a 100% “use a PirateBox to make other PirateBoxes” install – which is something that we went through at PirateBox Camp, but which I wasn’t set up for this morning – you the router to have Internet access via wired Internet to install PirateBox itself. I thought we were going to be able to pull this off by using mobile phone GSM Internet access via wifi tethering with a host MacBook Air and then sharing that connection with the Ethernet port, but we never quite got that working. After 90 minutes of fiddling with various possible options – including an attempt to use a virgin TP-Link MR3020 to do what it’s actually designed to do – share Internet via wifi – we gave up and retired to my office up the street to use its wired Internet. After that, things went as planned.
  • The Achilles heel of the install process is the vi editor that is used to change the network configuration half way through the install; while there’s a pointer to a cheat sheet included in the instructions, vi is just too weird for the uninitiated and so lots of “this is going to get really technical” disclaimers are required.
  • Once vi has been mastered and the network configuration changes, the rest of the install process pretty well happens on its own and that part worked flawlessly.

The workshop broke up about 1:00 p.m. with two new PirateBoxes having been built – one person, our dongleless one, had to leave early. It was a good learning experience for how (and how not) to conduct a PirateBox workshop; everyone in attendance was patient and open to learning.