This page is for mobile indymedia projects such a mobile cinema or wifi indymedia access points based in vehicles etc.

Currently this page consists mostly of a work in progress report for a project based in London, the Tr(((i)))cycle

Why mobile?

Mobile IMCs can achieve various roles, the most obvious being the provision of street level indymedia access points at public events and protests etc. Just like the traditional indoor IMC, the Mobile IMC would enable people to submit their own view of events along with photos or video clips, or even audio reports. The unit could provide a base for internet radio from location and equiped with a webcam it could also provide live video streaming (assuming a decent wireless internet connection is available).

Additionally, a mobile IMC could also be utilised as an info point for paper publications etc available to take away and in the evening converted into an outdoor cinema (although with personal experience I can say the scope for outdoor screenings is more limited than you might think).

Finally, a mobile IMC would act as a powerful outreach tool advertising the existance of indymedia and promoting the open publishing concept. It would encourage people to share their views and get involved in produing their own media. To a great extent the presence of a mobile IMC may overcome the problem that many people do not have access to the Internet from home and do therefore not know about, or contribute to, Indymedia.

The Tr(((i)))cycle

This project is underconstruction at the time of writing (March/April/May 05). It was first conceived in a serious way after my laptop died and I started buying broken laptops off ebay in the process of trying to fix it. The discovery of how easy it was to get cheap yet relatively high spec laptops refocused an idea of creating a mobile indymedia center on a bike trailer a couple of years ago to provide mobile reporting facilities for the disarm DSEi event. That idea never developed due to lack of time to source funding and put the thing together. However, this time the idea is not fixed on providing services to a specific event and it has been started in the hope that retrospective funding will be obtained in the future to cover the costs.

The basic idea is to utilise old laptops and wifi technology to produce a low cost publishing platform that can go anywhere and doesn't require hi-spec hardware or permanent connection to the internet. Initially I put out a proposal on a few mailing lists to see if anyone would get excited enough to help out or offer equipement. A copy can be found in archives (http://lists.indymedia.org/pipermail/imc-uk-video/2005-March/0320-ku.html), along with some editted followup to that (full thread can be found on the IMC-LONDON mailing list archive). There was very little response or interest so I progressed by myself to advance the project into the physical world (currently accessing this Wiki via one of the laptops and the wifi facilities).

Funding

Initial rough costings suggested it would need 500 or 600 pounds to put together (ignoring any cinema provision). I have not yet made any attempt to source funding but did take the opportunity to put on an little impromtu benefit event with Audiotrauma (www.audiotrauma.org) at the rampART which raised about 75 pounds.

Costs so far

Most of the major parts of the basic system have now been purchased and amount to about 400 pounds so far.

Wish List (To Do List)

  • Obtain retrospective funding
  • Apply for funding specifically to put together low powered cinema
  • More (light weight) solar panels
  • An 8 port 10/100 switch (DC powered)- I bought one but it's mains (wanna swap?)
  • x6 pcmcia ethernet cards - I bought a job lot but they are cardbus and not compatible frown, sad smile
  • DC-DC converter for 12 up to 16 volts [now bought one but could do with two more]
  • secondhand dry fit batteries
  • help designing and construction the backend on the trike
  • help coding (perl script) for the offline to newswire gateway [happening]
  • help getting the thin client/server side of things working well (xhosts / $display or ssh -X)
  • help setting up squid web proxy [switched to WWWOFFLE but still need configuring]
  • help authorising certification for smtp mail relaying (postfix or sendmail) [DONE]
  • a lift with the trike to scotland and back for the G8

The wheels..

I decided a trike was the way to go since it provides a stable self standing platform which we could not achieve using a convential bike and trailer arrangement. Other ideas that were concidered included a four wheeled trailer or a bicycle sidecar arrangement. The sidecar seemed promising as it is really easy to make, but we soon realised that it would probably be too wide to get indoors and would need a garage or similar to store it in.

A trike certainly seems the most feasible approach and if the project had funding (or was assured of getting it), then buying a ready built trike would have been the most sensible option. Without funding I decided to start building one instead. My intention was to modify a standard bike into a trike with two wheels at the front and one at the back - like old fashion ice cream sellers' tricycles now more commonly associated with Amsterdam or Christiana. These are much easier to build than those with two wheels at the back as it doesn't require any complicated transmision and axel etc. I have pretty much all the bits cut and ready to weld but my welding gear is in down south so progress ground to a halt.

UPDATE (28th April)

A commerical work trike has now been purchased (the DIY version remains half built and requires welding). It is big and heavy (not as big as a Cycles Maximus trike commonly seen around the westend being used as rickshaws, but not far off). It came as a flatbed with no box or cage or any other form of storage on the back. It's about 100cm wide with the space between rear wheels about 80cm and the 'bed' about 110cm long. I have since renewed the gears, fixed up the brakes and changed various bit and pieces to make it look nice. I have also constructed a rickshaw backend for it which will seat two people with two laptops on a 'desk'. The third laptop I intend to fit on the handle bars and I may add an additional two laptops on the rear.

UPDATE (14th May)

May have sourced another trike, this time one with two wheels at front. It needs some work but if I can get it it would mean there may be two mobile media trikes available for the G8 if transport could be arranged. Would definitly require some funding to kit out the second trike. Will update Wiki if/when confirmed.

The computers..

3x IBM Thinkpad X20

Since it is a three wheeled vehicle I decided that there should be three laptops (not four as I orginally planned - especially as I am currently funding this all myself). The laptops have all now been purchased and they are perfect for the job. All are identical IBM X20 thinkpads which I fell in love with I bought one for myself as a temporary laptop while I tried to fix my 1.7ghz Lifebook. The X20's (http://truffula.net/~forrest/tpx20.shtml) contain 600mhz Pentium III processors and fetch a good 250 to 300 pounds when sold complete and working on ebay. I got each of these for under 100 (without batteries or harddrives).

So what makes these X20's so good? Well, this model has a built in network card and is capable of booting over a network. This means that we can run diskless terminals and we only need one machine to have a harddrive (less expense and less power). Also, unlike many laptops, these thinkpads use 10.8 volt batteries and normally run off power supplys that provide 16 volts. This means that they should run directly from 12 volt batteries and won't require inefficient invertors to provide 240 volts. Further more, these thinkpads run Linux really well (I have tried Debian and Blag (redhat/FC3)).

UPDATE (19th May) - 6x IBM Thinkpad 760CD

I have been disappointed to discover that the X20's are actually quite relucant the run nicely off 12volts. They will do it but will require a bit more research and some electronic trickery. It looks like I'll have to go the inverter route or perhaps get DC-DC voltage boosters to provide 15 volts.

In the meantime, I've now got six Thinkpad 760's that do run on 12 volts. They are only 90mhz Pentiums with a pathetic 16 or 32mb of memory. They require network cards but they do have harddrives on which I have now installed a linux distro called Deli (see http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/DeLi_Linux). These machines should be able to run as thin client x-terminals. (I have also begun (broke finger permitting) to rework the tr(((i)))cycle construction to provide a table to house the increased number of computers.)

The server

I had been planning on using one of the X20s as the server and the other two as the clients but since the set back with the power issue and the switch to the six 760s, I have been forced to make new plans. I have requisitioned a reasonably spec mini-ITX computer which runs on 12 volts. On this I have installed BLAG (FC3 based distro) to act as the application server and internet gateway for the clients. Work on this has stalled since I don't currently have the network cards for the clients or a working wifi adapter for the server. All I have purchased so far have proved to be incompatible with Linux.

Internet Connectivity

Sharing Wireless

How about the connection to the internet? Well, I could buy a seperate wireless device in each machine but that would be stupid - better would be to put a wifi device in one machine and share it's connection (which is just a case of enabling IP Forwarding and set up Masquarad and NAT). That would be quite sensible and that's how I would do it if I didn't have the Linksys WET11 [update - now I don't. It was killed in a thunder storm] (http://www.linksys.com/products/product.asp?grid=33&scid=36&prid=602) which is an wireless ethernet bridge. Plug this into the ethernet hub or switch an all the machines on the network instantly get internet access (assuming there is an open wifi node in range) without the need for drivers etc.

Maximise range

To maximise the range we should use an high gain directional antenna. I have learnt to build really simply parabolic reflectors that give about 9db gain! see http://www.freeantennas.com/projects/template/ (or http://www.seattlewireless.net/index.cgi/AntennaHowTo for loads more possible designs). You can get higher gain from other designs but the reflectors don't have such critical alignmnet so are likely to work better in mobile applications. Obvious the antenna needs to be placed as high as possible. The use of USB wireless dongles is the cheapest way of doing this (no need for coax and expensive connectors see - http://www.usbwifi.orcon.net.nz/) but it's hard to get drivers for these under Linux. Originally I planned to use the WET11, so all I'd need do was place the whole unit (in something water proof) up high on a mast on the trike and run the ethernet and power cable up to it.

Software

Offline browsing

Providing offline reading of recent and frequently accessed indymedia newswire pages is pretty easy, it just requires the use of a http proxy cache like squid to be run on the local server. This allows people to continue to read indymedia even when no connection is available and would also make access to previously read pages much faster for everyone using the system when a connection is available. It's possible that the built in cache in Mozilla/Firefox etc would do the job but I am not sure it would be shared by all the clients/users. Squid was the obvious choice but probably too heavy for our purpose. Another option appeared to be POLIPO (see http://www.pps.jussieu.fr/~jch/software/polipo/manual/) but in the end I opted for WWWOFFLE instead (see http://www.gedanken.demon.co.uk/wwwoffle/). WWWOFFLE has facilities for recursive (readahead) caching which can speed up access to pages that haven't yet been requested. It has many other useful and essential features like auto redirect URL. It also has a built in web server that handles CGI so can supply the local publish page as well as handling the caching. (Note... there is a patched alternative version of WWWOFFLE that may be even better http://www.phys.uu.nl/~rombouts/wwwoffle.html)

Offline Publishing

The system allows uses to publish onto indymedia even when offline! (ie. in areas with no open wifi nodes). The solution used is to provide an offline publish form via a local web server (orginally I was using TurboHTTPD which is loads lighter than Apache, but now I intend to use the inbuilt web server in WWWOFFLE). The form converts the fields into an email (including attachments) using a perl script called Soupermail (see http://soupermail.sourceforge.net/) and the email is stored in the mail queue until an internet connection is available. On arrival at it's secret destination the email is processed by a special mail2mir gateway which places the post and the attachments on the Indymedia newswire. I have been testing this method and it seems to be working very well. I would like to have the code tweaked a little to provide full compatibilty with the date fields used by the UK publishing page but it is pretty workable even now. It should be possible to make the gateway handle comments as well as articles.

Providing Power...

Likely requirements

As mentioned earlier, the laptops can all run direct from 12volts. Items such as the ethernet switch which might both require 5 volts can easily be catered for using cheap regulators from Maplin. If we forget the mobile cinema idea for the moment we can see that we don't need much power to keep this stuff going all day. Each computer will around 2 amps on average and the network devices would add a negligible amount.

In total it seems like there would be something like a maximum of 15 AmpHr demand but probably less, perhaps 8 AmpHr on average. Bearing in mind that you shouln't discharge a typical lead-acid battery to less than half capacity - a typical 60 AmpHr car battery would probably supply the system for at least 4 hours.

Renewable energy

Capacity can be extended with the addition of solar panels or even pedal power (which I can do - see http://www.stewardwood.org/resources/DIYcyclepower.htm - but will not attempt at this stage). I will be utilising some of the Lifecycle pedal powered cinema panels which will probably amount to either 40 or 60 watts (call it 3 AmpHr approx in good summer sunlight - ie. about 25% of the likely power consumption when using all the computers).

Further features...

  • Wireless accesspoint to redistribute connectivity to local laptops and wireless PDA devices etc
  • Photo desk provision for selecting, cropping, adjusting and uploading digital photos.
  • Multicard reader to allow people to upload their photos from their digital cameras.
  • Bluetooth to allow transfer of videoclips and photos from modern moble phones.
  • Firewire - for limited web clip / editing / upload facilities for miniDV camera users.
  • Webcam to provide live images from location.
  • Microphones for live interviews and soundscape.
  • Sound system, for tunes (massive MP3 archive) or live announcments or whatever.
  • Paper propoganda - carry loads of 'indymedia offline' etc for distribution.

Mobile Cinema for Guerilla Screening

Assuming there is no funding available to purchase a dedicated low power projector, it would require a little forward planning and advance notice to use the trike for mobile cinema. A projector would need to be borrowed (one which doesn't draw to much current); an inverter would need to be borrowed or purchased (they are pretty cheap these days <50 pound should do it); and a screen would need to be built. An additional battery would probably need to be carried to ensure a decent playing time.

To provide the trike with the permenant ability to do impromptu screenings (without needing to borrow equipment, use inverters or carry extra batteries) would require the injection of funds to provide a 12 volt projector. There are now 12volt projectors available that only draw 5 amps instead of 20amps (see http://www.goldenshop.com.hk/AI-trad/Misc_htm/m_gproject.htm). They cost under 200 pounds but the quality is not great and they are not very bright. However the bulbs only cost 5 pounds to replace instead of over 200 pounds like most projectors. There are also incrediable white LED projectors just coming onto the market. These have pretty good image quality and draw very little power (they can run on batteries and are described as pocket projectors) but cost closer to 500 pounds (http://www.t3.co.uk/news/general/general/mitsubishis_pocket-sized_led_projector). These white LED projectors would be perfect for pedal powered outdoor cinema and the trike could easily be modified to enable one person to power the projector almost indefinitly by pedalling.

more tr(((i)))cycle links...

other mobile/portable facilities...

-- BenUK - 28 Apr 2005
Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size DateSorted ascending Who Comment
crop1.jpgjpg crop1.jpg manage 72 K 30 May 2005 - 23:29 UnknownUser Trike with six laptops
crop2.jpgjpg crop2.jpg manage 82 K 30 May 2005 - 23:30 UnknownUser rickshaw mode
crop3.jpgjpg crop3.jpg manage 82 K 30 May 2005 - 23:30 UnknownUser rickshaw mode from behind
11_1_b.JPGJPG 11_1_b.JPG manage 23 K 30 May 2005 - 23:31 UnknownUser bare trike as it came
77_1.JPGJPG 77_1.JPG manage 36 K 30 May 2005 - 23:32 UnknownUser bare trike as it came
95_1.JPGJPG 95_1.JPG manage 22 K 30 May 2005 - 23:33 UnknownUser bare trike as it came
criticalmass1.jpgjpg criticalmass1.jpg manage 43 K 31 May 2005 - 22:12 UnknownUser trike at May critical mass
projector.jpgjpg projector.jpg manage 11 K 03 Jun 2005 - 20:26 UnknownUser Games Projector 12 volt
diydish.jpgjpg diydish.jpg manage 20 K 03 Jun 2005 - 20:53 UnknownUser diy wifi antenna
Topic revision: r18 - 19 Feb 2006, SkeP
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