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Introducing (and interest check) AirTalk: Wireless plug-and-play LocalTalk dongles

rieSha.

Active member
That's good feedback. Can you remind me about this when I've got the first batch of wireless ones out? I've been designing another board as an experiment as a possible basis for an LT <-> Ethernet gateway, and perhaps that would be good hardware platform for Ethernet LToUDP, as well.
Sure, happy to do so.
 

cheesestraws

Well-known member
Quick update because I know people are watching:
  • The last-round testing airtalks, which are from the first production batch, have nearly all arrived with their testers now, and I'm just waiting for a 'go' from them because I'm neurotic.

  • I've just ordered a box of cardboard boxes, which amuses me far more than it should. "Recursion—see recursion", etc. That'll arrive next week.
So, we're very nearly there :-D.
 

Huxley

Well-known member
I'm somehow only just now learning about this project, but I'm blown away.

@cheesestraws - if you're still making a list of folks who'd like to purchase these, please put me onto it!

:)

Huxley
 

Torbar

Well-known member
I'd be interested in 2 or 3 of these as well. Been playing with some localtalk stuff but my desire to run phonenet cables around the house is minimal.
 

stepleton

Well-known member
I haven't got round yet to saying: 2 or 3 for me, too, please!

The pictures of the current device are a few pages back in the thread, and who can be bothered to click Prev that many times? Do you need DIN-9 to DIN-9 cables to connect these things to the computer, or do the devices come with what you need? If you do need little cables, where do people usually go to find them?

Also, is there a DB-25 version for Lisa/MacWorks Plus users? ;)
 
I think this is the moment to unveil something I've been working on for the last few weeks. This is AirTalk (thanks to @Cory5412 for the name). It aims to allow wireless LocalTalk networking (over WiFi) that feels like LocalTalk: so, no necessary configuration (aside from selecting the WiFi network). It's a visitor from an alternative future.


It also uses the same LocalTalk-over-UDP transport that Mini vMac does, so it can be used to network between Mini vMac and real hardware:


What little configuration there is is done (or will be done when it works properly) through the Chooser (now you know why I have been writing RDEVs):

As you can probably tell from the board, this is currently in a "late prototyping / just pre-alpha" stage where I'm using an esp32 dev board. I'm intending to produce a slightly more practical revision of the board (e.g., smaller, using SMD components, having ADB power as an option as well as USB) if there is interest. Not sure at this point quite how that'll be happening, since I'm not a product engineer and I don't really want to have a product, but I'm sure I'll work something out.

This only exists because of previous work by @tashtari who build the TashTalk LT transceiver and @demik whose Quack project taught me a lot about FreeRTOS. Major thanks to both of you.

What do people think?


IFAQ:
  1. Is this a new LocalTalk to EtherTalk gateway?
    Nope. Instead think of this as a long LocalTalk cable that just happens not to physically exist. LT to EtherTalk bridges are hairy things; they are either routers which require configuration or bridges that don't work in the presence of routers and which are very picky about how the network is configured. I'm going to plug one of these into my AppleTalk router to do routing from LToUDP to EtherTalk, personally.​
  2. Can this be used on a LocalTalk segment with multiple computers on it?
    Yes, although I haven't stress tested this yet. It isn't like a USB wifi dongle which plugs into only one machine, you can use it to bridge a whole network to WiFi. Any computer on the LocalTalk segment can configure it through the Chooser.​
  3. How does it perform compared with LocalTalk?
    Once again, I haven't properly tested this yet, but initial results are: transferring bulk from Mini vMac to a LocalTalk client on a segment on its own (so just the computer plugged into the dongle), I was getting close to the theoretical maximum throughput for LocalTalk. When both ends of the connection are on WiFi, sustained transfers are good, but latency is noticeably higher compared to "real" LocalTalk, simply because WiFi latency is higher than LocalTalk latency. This noticeably affects things like how quickly folder windows populate, because there's multiple roundtrips involved in getting that information.​
  4. What does it require from my network?
    Not much. All you need is a WiFi AP that can shunt IP multicast around properly. Most of them can, and if zeroconf/mDNS/Bonjour work on your network, then it'll be fine.​
  5. Will there be a version with wired Ethernet instead?
    Maybe. Do you want one?​
  6. Are you looking for alpha testers?
    I will be looking for a couple of alpha testers on the order of weeks. If you've got a good variety of LocalTalk peripherals or a largish LocalTalk network and would like to do some testing for me, let me know.​
  7. When will this be finished?
    When it's finished. I'm not going to hold myself to timescales here; I have a dayjob and other things in my life as well and I'm not intending to turn this into work. But I'll try to keep people updated as it goes.​
  8. Does the back of the board say 'eeeese' on it?
    Yup:​


Re:#5 Just a random fyi… Ethernet versions already exist. See: https://jcm-1.com/product/neithernet-adapter/ but I’m super stoked for these wireless ones from you.
 

Scott Squires

Well-known member
No. That converts LocalTalk cabling from 8 pin mini din (Mac serial) to UTP/CatX cable. It sends AppleTalk over network cables, much as the PhoneNet adapters send AppleTalk over phone cables. Cheesestraws is talking about sending AppleTalk over an actual Ethernet network.
 
No. That converts LocalTalk cabling from 8 pin mini din (Mac serial) to UTP/CatX cable. It sends AppleTalk over network cables, much as the PhoneNet adapters send AppleTalk over phone cables. Cheesestraws is talking about sending AppleTalk over an actual Ethernet network.

Ah, appreciate the clarification. elsewhere in the thread it says to picture the wireless version as localtalk without the wires. And that this didn't include a bridge to ethertalk, so the faq read to me as just putting the wires back in Phonenet style.
 

Tom2112

Well-known member
Ooooo! I'm interested in these as well. Can't wait until they're on sale. I see you're in Wales. Is there any plan to have any made across the pond (in the US) to avoid the probably expensive P&P ?

Regardless, put me down as interested.
 

Scott Squires

Well-known member
The current software encapsulates LocalTalk over UDP. I believe for #5, that would also be true. It wouldn't be EtherTalk; you couldn't for example connect an Ethernet-enabled Mac to it and it be able to connect to the AppleTalk network, because it wouldn't know how to speak LToUDP. You'd have to go back to LocalTalk with another dongle first. However, since it is UDP, it would be compatible with your Ethernet infrastructure (switches, routers, etc). Also with Mini vMac. If you connected NeitherNet cables to your Ethernet network... at best it wouldn't work at all.

EtherTalk and IP both co-exist on an Ethernet network. Whereas LToUDP is LocalTalk wrapped inside of UPD (which operates on top of IP). Basically LToUDP leverages the IP stack for routing and such to make implementation simpler.

I believe cheesestraws has said that LocalTalk <-> EtherTalk gateway is something he would like to do as well in the future, but no promises.
 
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cheesestraws

Well-known member
picture the wireless version as localtalk without the wires

Ahh, perhaps I was unclear. I was speaking there from a user experience perspective, not a "how the hardware works" perspective. The corresponding Ethernet device would be "you plug this into an existing Ethernet network and all the dongles magically appear on the same virtual LocalTalk network without the Macs needing to do anything about it", rather than just using Ethernet wiring. Sorry if that was a bit obscure!

this didn't include a bridge to ethertalk

As @Scott Squires says, this bridges to something else other than Ethertalk, namely LToUDP. There's a couple of reasons for that, but the most important one is that whether home WiFi will reliably transmit AppleTalk or not—well, toss a coin. It might, it might not. That didn't seem a great basis for a tool that I really wanted to be usable by people who just want to use their Macs without having to know arcane details about how networks work. (It did also make the software much simpler, because I could use the IP stack that came with the microcontroller rather than having to wrangle WiFi frames on my own! Which was a big advantage as this is my first non-trivial hardware design project, so restricting the scope was good).

I believe cheesestraws has said that LocalTalk <-> EtherTalk gateway is something he would like to do as well in the future, but no promises.

I'd really like to. This is sitting in the "feasibility study" stages at the moment, I've got some early-stage design sketches but I don't know if they'll actually work yet, and as such I'm not going to make too much noise about it until I'm reasonably sure I can make the thing go :).

That said, if anyone would like to have opinions about what it should look like, please join in this thread:


as I want to make sure any hypothetical thing I do build is useful to people.


The pictures of the current device are a few pages back in the thread, and who can be bothered to click Prev that many times

Good call. I'll post a round-up update with pics and "how you can plug it in" in a bit.
 

cheesestraws

Well-known member
And now the posts I missed in my first pass, sorry:

Is there any plan to have any made across the pond (in the US) to avoid the probably expensive P&P ?

I've been thinking about this. The boards come mostly assembled, because I'm terrible at SMD soldering so I pay someone else to do it, and it seems kind of silly to send them to the UK just so I can put the mini-DIN sockets and tashtalks on and program the firmware then send them back over to the US. None of those are particularly hard things to do.

That said, I don't think P&P is going to be quite as bad as you might think: I've sent some over to the US for testing purposes by tracked international post and it's been pretty reasonable. It's much cheaper to send things to the US than from for various reasons. A lovely person has also volunteered to do proxy shipping, so I send them a big parcel of parcels and they send onwards. Which may also help reduce cost somewhat. My logistics skills are weak, so this will be interesting. :)

Regardless, once the first batch is done and sent out, I will be sticking the hardware too up on github under some kind of permissive license or other—the delay mostly because decisions like that make me anxious and I want to manage the number I have to make at a time, but also because selfishly I'd like to get back the cost of prototyping these before I let anyone else have a play—and at that point someone over there would be welcome to decide to start making them up for "local" consumption if the demand was there. But I'd rather have that discussion after the first batch is done and sent out and people have got them working, because ... well, see my previous comments about being anxious and having poor logistics skills :) .


Also might be worth noting that these don't have isolation transformers on them: so probably fine for smaller networks but I'd be careful if connecting computers together that are on different earths or are far away from each other. Not meant as any dig at the hardware of course—as far as I know no isolation transformer that meets Apple's specs is available off the shelf, so it's not surprising it hasn't got one—but just as a note.
 

buserror

Active member
I'm also interested in 2 or 3 of these; I'm in the England (Bucks) and Wales (Powys) :) -- oh, and I can do SMT soldering, if you are considering a kit.
 

cheesestraws

Well-known member
A summary and update draws nigh! (thanks @stepleton for the suggestion/reminder that a catch-up would be a good idea.) The story so far...

This is AirTalk. AirTalk is a dongle that extends a LocalTalk (or PhoneNet, or equivalent) network over WiFi.

67424678066__F47AB47E-7036-45AC-B044-2F3417D76AF3.JPG

It's basically plug and play: you tell it what WiFi network to connect to through the Chooser, and then you just go. All the AirTalk dongles on the same WiFi network can see each other and all look like they're on the same LocalTalk network, and so everything plugged into the LocalTalk port of those dongles can see each other as if the dongles were joined together with LocalTalk cables.

index.png

(this is the old icon; the new AirTalk icon, by @LaPorta, is prettier, but I didn't have a screenshot handy)
It requires no software on the Mac or LocalTalk device to use it, the Chooser extension only sets it up, so it will work with things like printers or routers as well as with Macs.
You can also network with (at time of writing) the beta of Mini vMac, though I'm sure this code will make it into production sooner or later. (Though this has a few caveats, mostly around speed).

It has a serial port, where you can either plug in a printer cable to a single LocalTalk device (Mac, printer, router, whathaveyou) or plug a LocalTalk or PhoneNet box in to add it to the end of a whole LocalTalk network. It can either get its power from Micro USB or from an ADB passthrough.


RenderedImage.jpg

AirTalk is not intended to be a highly tweakable or mysterious tool for network nerds or software engineers, but as user friendly and plug and play as I can make it. The AirTalk firmware is currently open source, and the hardware will be as soon as I get around to making the design available. It's not currently available, but for inertia reasons, rather than ideological ones.

Any testers who wish to weigh in with their experiences would be welcome—positive or negative, it's important people get a true impression of this.

So much for the sales bumf, what're the downsides?
  • You obviously lose some speed compared to "wired" LocalTalk. How fast it is depends on a lot of things. but all my testers managed to get it to work at at least half wired LocalTalk speed, and most significantly more. I get about 90% of wired LocalTalk speed, but I obssessed over building my WiFi network.​
  • WiFi limitations: Decent speeds require decent WiFi signal strength. AirTalk does not do 5GHz WiFi, only 2.4GHz. It does not support WEP or WPA Enterprise, because the first is unsafe and the latter suggests you're plugging this into a corporate network which sounds like a bad idea. It supports WPA(2) Personal, and while it will connect to unencrypted networks, this is not a supported configuration, and you shouldn't do it unless you have absolutely no other choice. Your WiFi needs to be handing out IP addresses over DHCP—if you haven't deliberately turned this off it probably is—and it needs to be able to pass multicast. Nearly all modern WiFi does.​
  • AirTalk is not a LocalTalk to EtherTalk bridge. If you have more modern OS 9 Macs with AirPort cards on the same WiFi network as AirTalk machines, they will not be able to see each other. There are good reasons for this, unfortunately.​
  • AirTalk is not a generic serial/RS232 extender. If, for example, you have a non-LocalTalk printer, you can't stick two AirTalks between the printer and the computer and expect it to work. There are plenty of options for this already, I believe. AirTalk is a wireless networking dongle.​
  • AirTalk is not a modem emulator. It will not allow you to connect to, say, an IP network using emulated PPP. It will, however, let you connect to an IP network with MacIP (using something like @mactjaap's MacIP stuff or Apple IP Gateway) at LocalTalk speeds, which is probably faster.​
  • If you only get one AirTalk, you will be basically limited to networking with Mini vMac at this point.​
AirTalk dongles are £23 each. I'm going to start contacting people who have expressed interest in this thread (or otherwise) this week. I'm going to get them to people in the order they contacted me as much as possible. Please bear with me—this isn't a commercial operation, and I'm unused to running product logistics.

I think this is probably all that people need to know about the current state of the project!

edit:

If you’re looking for distribution partner in Australia let me know!

Thanks! I'm going to slightly rate limit the units I send out to start with simply so that if there are tech support issues, they're spread over a longer period. It's hard to write an FAQ until one knows what the Qs that are A-ed F are.

But after that's done and I upload the hardware designs, it'd be great if people wanted to get some made up in other countries to save on shipping and tax and so forth. The only bits of the hardware that aren't able to be assembled by the JLCPCB SMT assembly service are the mini-DINs and the PIC which is socketed, so really the only reason they need to come via me at all is because of the aforesaid rate-limiting.
 
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LaPorta

Well-known member
Just an addendum with what cheesestraws said:

You can use this with an ethernet network via a localtalk to ethernet adapter. For example, I have an AirTalk connected to my iPrint LocalTalk to Ethernet adapter, and the devices I have on my ethernet network are all accessible by the AirTalk connected devices. So it is possible, just not putting an AirTalk on a network and "poof"....you are all connected.
 
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