Hacking in Amsterdam

After a lie in, a group of BarCampers and I went to a cafe with free WiFi for lunch. It was in the middle of a street of other cafes – so that’s ten customers they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. It saddens me that WiFi hotspots in cafes the UK all still seem to be pay-for. I was looking for a free hotspot in London overlooking a park the other day, so I could sit and hack for a few hours, and couldn’t find one, (Of course, it didn’t help that consume.net‘s site was down. Obviously someone unmade their switch…).

We then moved on to a techo-squat in Java Straat, Amsterdam called ASCII (Amsterdam Subversive Centre for Information Interchange), from where I’m writing this. They describe themselves as a “people’s communication lab” – they provide internet services to the community, including free computers and free WiFi. It’s a cool place to hang out.

10 thoughts on “Hacking in Amsterdam

  1. Hi, I missed you guys at lunch. Looking to find you. I am at room 203 at the Winston. I’ll try you at the place listed in your blog.


  2. Any Central London park – Hyde, Green, St. James, Regents, even Battersea. Just somewhere green, leafy and pleasant to sit.

  3. As a pub and restaurant owner in Edinburgh, UK, that hasn’t signed up with any pay-per-login hotspot provider, what broadband / wifi setup would you regard as adequate for free provision? I’d be interested in implementing if I thought it cost effective.

  4. Christian Now that is an entirely reasonable question. I guess what you probably want is ADSL on one of the pub’s phone lines (I recommend plus.net; they are my provider) and a wireless router which you can just plug into it and leave running. The WRT54G is highly spoke of. You also probably need a pet geek (if you aren’t one yourself) to set it up correctly and check it’s working periodically.

    But I’d do more research than just asking me before diving in.

  5. Don’t worry Gerv, I’ve got a retained geek who ought to be able to advise – I’ve been mulling over the possibility of offering free access for a while, especially as ADSL speeds have increased and prices have fallen – I’m interested though about what users might expect and regard as “good” service.

    Clearly the fastest speed available with no download cap, but what about wireless security settings? Should the router be completely open? That would be fine for one of our pubs that is built like a concrete bunker, but perhaps not so great for another with huge windows and offices in close proximity. So perhaps WEP with a passphrase that is changed frequently but handed over free at the bar.

    I’d be intersted to know what people would expect and want security-wise.

  6. What’s the downside of having is leak beyond your building? If anyone wants to do anything nefarious, they can just as easily do it sitting in the corner with a pint. The only thing you’d need to worry about was accidental or deliberate connections using up so much bandwidth that your customers’ experience suffered. If I were you, I’d try it fully open at first, and see if you run into problems. You can always switch to a shared WEP phrase later.

  7. Gerv, I suppose I was being pessimistic about the likelyhood of a neighbour taking advantage of bandwidth being made available to the wider public.

    I’m also curious as to peoples attitudes using hotspots – do they care if their connection is encrypted? Should I be caring on their behalf? Given the choice of WPA or none, which would you choose to use?

    I also wonder whether as a provider I am liable in any way if the connection is used to access harmful sites. I guess my ISP would pretty quickly clamp down on it, but should I have hardware/software in place to prevent it in advance?

  8. Christian: I certainly don’t care if a hotspot I use is encrypted; I use encrypted protocols for things like mail. It also makes the hotspot harder to set up and configure your machine for, because you need to share keys around.

    Re: liability, I’m not sure you can meaningfully do much to prevent abuse (apart from blocking outgoing port 25, and that would annoy legitimate users who wanted to send mail).