The second session of Wireless Field Day 2 saw us back at the Tech Field Day San Jose Headquarters of the Doubletree to see the Boys from Boise, MetaGeek. Ryan Woodings (@ryanwoodings) and Trent Cutler (@firemywires) were presenters at Wireless Field Day 1 and I’ve talked about my love for the story of MetaGeek building their innovations before as well. I’ve never been disappointed talking to these guys, and I was sure that Wireless Field Day 2 wasn’t going to disappoint.
Compared to the nervousness from WFD1, Ryan and Trent were like old pals for us at WFD2. We had some laughs at the beginning about things while the guys were getting set up and Sam Clements decided to play his own practical joke. While Trent was showing us a live packet capture of the wireless frequencies in the room, Sam flipped on his pocket Wi-Fi jammer. The soft blues and greens of the Wi-Spy interface jumped up to angry reds and filled the screen with a rainbow of bad conditions. You know you’re in a room full of Wi-Fi nerds when they start gasping at a picture of a packet capture. Sam’s joke gave us an excellent chance to see the Wi-Spy in action. The tool is an outstanding way to visualize the airspace in the room and see sources of interference from all types of devices, not just Wi-Fi sources. We delved into the now familiar interface as well as some recorded packet captures that Trent just loves to share. As a side note here: Trent was running some advanced code on his machine, and as such it crashed once or twice trying to load packet captures. He was a little flustered from the application crashes. Trent (and others reading) – you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re stuff is so cutting edge and cool that it has an occasional issue, I’m cool with that. I’d rather see you pushing the envelope and having the odd issue. It’s much more real to me if there’s a bug or two. Besides, I know you’ll get it fixed.
Once we worked through the Wi-Spy and Channelyzer stuff, we got a chance to see what MetaGeek had been working on in the Boise Skunkworks. The first was a portable scanner device they called “Sputnik”. It’s a little server of some kind that has been retrofitted with a Wi-Spy and some antennas. It’s a great way to get a device into the hands of people for on-site testing. You can collect data about the airspace in a given area without the need to have a Wi-Spy or Channelyzer installed on a laptop. They even showed us some packet captures they’d taken at Interop Vegas this year with Sputnik. I had no idea the Interop show floor was such a hostile RF environment. We also got to see the work they are doing with Channelyzer on tablets. Right now, the iPad supports viewing packet captures. But since there are Android Honeycomb tablets on the market that support full-sized USB ports, MetaGeek has a way to do packet captures from them as well! Can you imagine handing your Wi-Spy-enabled tablet to an intern to go chase down some interference for you on another campus? This is a great idea and I’m interested to see where it leads down the road. Heck, it might have even given me a use case for a non-fruity table device.
We also got one of the first looks at the new packet visualization tool that MetaGeek has been working on, Eye P.A.:
MetaGeek has taken a Wireshark packet capture (.pcap file) and breathed life into it. No longer must you sit and try to decode headers and decipher payloads. Instead, you feed your packet capture into Eye P.A. and you let the magic happen. It reads all the pertinent data and draws a very pretty stacked pie chart to help you visualize things like authentication headers and retransmit packets. “Cool” doesn’t even begin to describe this tool. I can now get a big picture view of PCAP files in seconds without needing to spend a lot of time decoding things. Thanks to MetaGeek, we were all provided a beta copy of Eye P.A. to put through the paces and play with. I’m actually excited to feed it some packet captures and see what kind of beautiful, nerdy art I can come up with. Just start calling me Leonardo da Nerd.
One thing that MetaGeek did do toward the end of the presentation that I liked quite a bit was take a few minutes to ask us what we wanted to see from their product. It’s very easy to sit in an ivory tower and assume that all the features you are cramming into a product are cool and necessary. It’s something else entirely to solicit feedback from the users and get a feel for where you need to take things. Especially if it’s going to involve a lot of extra work, like coding Channelyzer for the Mac or releasing inSSIDer for Linux. I can’t wait to see where MetaGeek is going to take their products in the next year. Of course, it wouldn’t be MetaGeek without an Oprah Moment as well. I’m already a huge fan of the Wi-Spy I got last year. Now, I have another! MetaGeek gave me a new Wi-Spy DBx as well as the 900 MHz model, a Device Finder antenna, Channelyzer, Channelyzer Lab, and a beta copy of Eye P.A. They even gave me a snazzy case to put in my laptop bag and carry with me wherever I might roam. I can’t wait to try out these new toys and maybe even put them in the hands of my junior rock stars to get them interested in wireless interference scanning.
MetaGeek is the best example of everything that is good about Tech Field Day. A little company from Idaho that wasn’t well known outside of a copy of Engadget articles. They come out to Wireless Field Day 1 and hit a home run on their first at-bat despite being in the room with some notoriously hard-to-please people. Eleven months later they come back the seasoned WFD veterans and manage to top themselves. I hope that WFD has generated a lot of buzz for MetaGeek because I want to see them keep coming back and sharing with us. They’re a great group to talk to and they love to have fun. If anyone deserves to thrive in the wireless industry, it’s the Boise Boys of MetaGeek.
As a special bonus, here’s the WFD 2 Day 1 wrap up video showcasing Trent Cutler’s outakes. The most genuine video ever from Tech Field Day, and my new favorite.
Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer
MetaGeek was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me a Wi-Spy DBx, a Wi-Spy 900 MHz model, a Device Finder antenna, Channelyzer, Channelyzer Lab, a beta copy of the Eye P.A packet capture visualization tool, and a carrying pouch containing all of the above equipment. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.