The Wandering Star

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The Wandering Star
The Wandering Star
HSB on the road
Wouter, Askarel, ptr_, tazo


Illuminated by the success of Dragons Everywhere, and a late-nite palaver on the true meaning of 'wandering' (to repeatedly listen to lee marvin's a wandering star, to 'explore romantically',...); we had the idea to build a light and portable server, which serves to connect hsbxl remotely to the conference/hackmeeting/gathering -- so the folks staying at home can organize a little get together and leech the remote resources.


the wandering star is scheduled to go to Berlin for the 27C3.

Think of it: last year that project was just words in the air.



The total case should be usable for 'romantically exploring' the world & 'phone-home' back to the hackerspace, and provide a vpn + ssh + decent storage.

Current status[edit]

Build pictures are here.

Coming up next:[edit]

  • Trimming more Debian fat:
    • Reworking /var: apt cache, log files, spools,...
    • Recompile a new kernel: there is way too much stuff in the stock Debian kernel
    • tmpfs: the more the better. Encrypted swapspace setup coming up next.
  • Make it tweet !! It already has a twitter account !
  • Install fresh hard disks and test.
  • Build the software part (OpenVPN, encrypted disks, remote management,...)
  • IMPORTANT: Write a service manual :-)
  • Profit !!

The Wandering Star need you !![edit]

The case need a nice decal on the sides: this is your opportunity to add your artistic touch to the project. Use this section to post your artwork. The winner will be chosen during a TechTuesday.

Case dimensions:

  • with aluminium frame: 46x33 cm
  • Black area only: 43,2x30,3 cm



  • Care must be taken during construction: the machine need to be able to withstand some level of reasonable physical abuse. No sloppy or dodgy assembling techniques are allowed.
  • Opening that compromise the structural integrity of the case should be avoided. Local reinforcement is needed when there is no alternative.
  • Port replication: To protect the connectors of the motherboard, the most used ports need to be replicated to the outside (ethernet, USB, VGA at least).
  • Case need to be opened for hardware maintenance or emergencies only.
  • Operating system must reside on static storage (compactflash, USB stick,...)
  • Air entry hole must have a filter to avoid foreign objects entering the case


  • plug it on the conf' network & provide vpn link to hsb


  • limited weight & size
  • storage (redundant)
  • encrypted disks (or some system so the traveler can't be held responsable for the contents of the system)
  • gigabit networkinterface
  • kensington cable + burglar alarm
  • serial terminal interface for config/problemsolving

decisions to be made[edit]

  • what is 'portable' ? (< 8 kg ?)
  • need for encryption ? separate encryption for each user of the system ?
  • disaster recovery (recovering data in case of disk failure/system failure)
  • how to do configuration (eg. no dhcp at the remote network)
    • Avahi/zeroconf might help here
  • network redundancy (if we got mobo with 2 network interfaces - are they both usable?)

technical/architectural specs[edit]

at HSB[edit]

  • openvpn server on tcp 443 (openvpn is on 'Appelblauwzeegroen')
  • dyndns for the public ip (, client is running on the router)
  • script to add manually the routes easily

wandering star[edit]

  • openvpn client
  • /etc/network/interfaces post up script to:
  1. twitter a message that it's up'n'running
  2. start up openvpn
  • openvpn auth: using ssl client certificate
  • openvpn up script: twitter message that VPN link is active + netmask of conference
  • firewall script: masquerade the vpn traffic behind the IP of the box (for us to reach the network)

User management[edit]

  • A list of valid users will be downloaded from The_Gate, complete with their SSH public keys, passwords and privileges. User management will be done at The_Gate.

what do we have[edit]

  • aluminum/plastic lightweight flightcase (outside: 33 X 45,5 x 16,5 cm, inside: 31,5 X 44,3 X (9 + 5,1 cover) cm )
  • workable atx backplate (that fits the lid) of the proposed case.
  • An untested power supply
  • An USB extension backplate with 4 USB plugs
  • CF -> IDE adapter


so we'll probably end up with a bunch of donated disks, which means:

  • it should be easy to add/remove disks as donations come in
  • disks will fail one time or another (even if we make fixtures in silicone/gel, they will die due to shocks while travelling)
  • disks are of unequal size (being random donations)

  • a standard RAID container won't suit our needs: the disks being of unequal size (raid container will be constructed, taking only smallest disk size into account)
  • creating a LVM partition, spanning different disks is no solution neither as one dead disk will make the whole volume unusable.
  • raid-Z (ZFS) would be nice, but this means we have to go for FreeBSD or OpenSolaris (and removing disks is not possible...)
  • tahoe-lafs would be great, but
    • it is a lot of overhead, being a project aimed for cloud storage, so client-server based (not a local fs)
    • i can't get it to run multiple nodes on one machine
  • BTRFS recently got included in linux kernel - can be worth a look (as it is the linux anser to ZFS)
    • only mirroring & striping support now though...

On 'wandering'...