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SOHO (Small Office Home Office) LAN User's Log

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This page last updated on or about 5-4-08
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Due to the chronological nature of this log, certain embedded web links and documented costs/prices for certain wares discussed may be out-of-date by the time some readers find this piece. This is Real World usage rather than a syrupy evangelistic exercise, so you'll find both good and bad things about SOHO LANs here. END NOTE.

SOHO LAN User's Log Table of Contents

5-4-08: Moving computers around on the LAN can necessitate a network reboot

It seems our LAN can withstand having a laptop moved from one net connection to another on an infrequent basis-- plus have a strange laptop be connected briefly at times. But start playing musical chairs with more computers than that, and all internet access might be lost-- until you reboot the LAN, as described in previous articles.

I'd suspected as much in previous troubleshooting sessions, but am now getting much more certain of the matter, after another spate of such problems in past weeks.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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2-2-07: The missing link

Well, the internet slowdown proceeded to get steadily worse again after the power cycling. Plus, as mentioned before, I could plainly detect something still wasn't 100% even immediately after the last power down/power up of all the switches, router, and cable modem.

One of the main computer users here was suddenly gone a week though, taking their computer with them. And I got another clue to what was going on.

For suddenly after that computer was disconnected from our LAN, internet access went back to 100% speed again. The missing computer was a Mac OS X laptop, too.

So was it just a coincidence? Or was it OS X? Or something else regarding just that part of the LAN connected to the laptop?

Once the user returned and reconnected, internet speed immediately began plummeting again. Viola!

It turned out there was a network switch between the router and that Mac that I'd forgotten about when I did the power cycling thing. So that might be what was causing the problem! So late one night when no one was using the LAN I rebooted the whole thing again, this time including the switch feeding the laptop and our G4.

That was last night. Out internet access seems to be fine again. I hope it stays that way! But with the frequency of power blinks steadily rising in America, problems like these are only going to increase too.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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1-21-07: Cycling redux

I had to repeat the power cycling of the LAN as described in the previous entry.

Again, it was because of the significant slowing of the LAN due to multiple power blinks within just a second or so. Everything kept running after the blinks: but internet access became slower, like the networking gear was missing some signals, or having to resend a lot of signals multiple times to get a response.

But it's a hassle to power cycle the entire LAN. So if the net works at all, I'll personally try to suffer through it as long as I can. This time I maybe went several days to a week. But the problem tends to get worse the longer it goes on. So I finally gave in the did the cycling.

This seemed to fix it. But I did see a couple hints that there might be more to it this time. For one thing, even after the cycling, now and again I'm still seeing the message "resolving [web site address]" in the bottom left corner of my brower. I was seeing that a LOT before the cycling. Plus, when I cycled the main router, the set of lights pertaining to the connection to the cable modem displayed an odd blink to them: almost with the same timing as a human blink. The pattern seemed to continue on way past where it should have.

I'm a bit concerned the router may be developing problems. Or maybe one of the switches between my PC and the router? But of course it could simply be something on our ISP's end. Only time will tell.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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5-2-06: Power-cycling LAN switches, routers, and cable modems to recover after power blinks/brownouts impose sluggishness in internet access

The US electric grid has been getting increasingly shaky the past 10 years. To the point that it's not unusual for even Americans in the most stable and robust areas of the grid (i.e., I live in the TVA region which enjoys massive hydroelectric resources undergirding the local infrastructure) to experience perceptible power blinks/brown outs several times a week during waking hours-- sometimes even daily.

We had an especially bad spell of blinks here a few days ago.

My personal PC is protected by a small uninterruptible power supply. But everything else at WebFLUX central mostly has only surge protectors, but for a couple laptop computers with their own built-in batteries.

This means our cable modem, router, and various switches downstream are easily affected by blinks and brownouts.

99% of the time the network gear seems to be unfazed by such episodes. But a few days ago we had multiple power blink episodes within hours of one another, and each episode included a rapid sequence of blinks all occuring within fractions of a second of one another.

I noticed them as I typed on my UPS-protected PC, due to my office lighting dimming in concert with audible clicks from my UPS itself. The UPS seems to click like this during blinks, outages, and brownouts. If the power goes out completely an alarm sounds, warning me to do an orderly shut down of my system. For my UPS can probably only keep it running maybe 15 minutes on its own.

I rarely hear the UPS click several times in a row within a matter of seconds, like this.

Note these power blinks didn't last long enough to kill the Mac G4 or another non-UPS protected desktop computer running elsewhere in WebFLUX Central at the time. I know because I made the rounds, alerting the users they might have to restart the computers if they acted too glitchy afterwards, due to memories possibly being corrupted by the blinks.

The LAN seemed unaffected too.

But the next day the LAN was very sluggish. Internet access intermittantly very sluggish.

As such problems more often stem from our broadband ISP rather than our own LAN, plus I had plenty of off-line work to do anyway, I didn't take any remedial measures then. Usually such stuff clears up on its own.

But the day after that the sluggishness was still there. Maybe even worse than before.

So I power-cycled the LAN. Shut down all the computers attached to it. Then began at the furthest extremities (the second floor of WebFLUX Central, and my personal office), killing power to my own network switch, then the network switch which fed it in a second office, then the main router in the basement, then the cable modem itself.

I realize now I actually missed at least one network switch in this cycle (there's so many around here now, and I so rarely cycle them, I forget). But the LAN seems to be intact and running well everywhere now, regardless.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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4-1-06: Smooth sailing net-wise over past months

I usually only update this log when I've had network problems. But the only network problems we've had over previous months had nothing to do with the LAN itself. Power blinks due to hiccups relating to electrical utility company wares, or local vicinity auto wrecks knocking down power lines cause us power outages from time to time. On occasion I must fix a computer gone awry too. But the LAN itself as described in this log has performed very well. Heck, even our broadband ISP has worked better than usual!

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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7-3-05: Problems with a Linksys switch on my desk which uplinks to another switch, which itself uplinks to the router

For a bit I thought the latest Linksys network switch I bought had died on me. Specifically speaking, what had quit was its uplink port to another switch which itself links to our central router.

This effectively made the switch useless.

It's acted up before, but I was able to cut its electrical power and force a reset on it. That didn't work today.

In previous failures I also cut the power to the switch to which this one uplinks. But today I couldn't without interrupting users upstream of me on the LAN as well (kids playing internet games). So I had to wait to try it the next day.

It's possible a power blink overnight got the two switches out of synch with one another and only power cycling both-- the upstream switch first, and my desktop switch second-- can fix the problem.

From experience I've learned to always first suspect our cable modem ISP, as 95% of the problems are usually on their end so far. So when I booted my PC and found my net to be dead, I assumed another ISP outage. But then a youngster here managed to get online upstream of me.

That moved me to checking connections. Finally I moved the uplink cable from the local desk switch to a direct connection to my PC and viola! My internet was back.

Fortunately a reboot of both the desk switch and the switch to which it's uplinked did the trick the next day-- with the upstream switch being powered down, waiting ten seconds, then powering up again; and my desk switch only then being powered back up itself. That re-established the necessary connection.

It seems that my current office location at WebFLUX Central is near the very end of both the power line and the LAN cabling-- which makes my little desktop switch more vulnerable to brief power blip outages causing disconnects with everything else.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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1-10-05: Reasonably smooth sailing-- but dark clouds on the horizon

The LAN's been working swell the last few months. Despite the new Ethernet terminations on the latest cabling which refuse to positively lock into anything. So far none have jumped their moorings. And despite the broken wire in the router cable feeding the network switch connecting both the G4 and iMac to the LAN. When the light goes out on the switch I just bend the cable behind it to re-establish contact. And urge all the teens and kids jumping around it to be a bit calmer for the wire's sake.

Our broadband ISP has warned us it's raising its rates yet again(!) While at the same time it's in a tiff with the local city or country government about its operating license. So we could lose our broadband connection two different ways there...

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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11-27-04: I've moved the HP out of my office

I had to add a new network cable to our LAN to accommodate the new location. Unfortunately, the "RadioShack 8-Conductor Crimp-On Modular Plugs" connectors seemed defective. That is, unlike every other connector of this kind I've ever installed, they wouldn't positively click into or lock into the ports you plugged them into on the back of a router or switch or PC. Darn it.

So the new cable may lose its connection at any moment, from either end.

Of course, that wasn't the only problem. Manually attaching the ends to Ethernet cables is one awful job. Especially for someone with aging eyes. The wires are teensy tiny, and must be separated and arranged into a specific order, and that order must be meticulously maintained as you try to manuever the wires into specific tiny channels inside the connector. Oh yes. And the wires must all be cut absolutely evenly or else one or more may not make it far enough into the connector to get properly crimped. As happened with this last batch. I think. For now that I know about the failure of the connectors to click into place I'm less certain about my termination failure. But anyway, it seemed that one wire didn't get pushed in far enough for the crimp and so I cut off the connector and installed a new one, being careful to trim the wires to the exact same orientation all the way across.

That original 500 foot roll of cable bought for the LAN hasn't run out yet. Besides the maybe 50 to 75 feet used for the HP's newest location, we cut off another four or five feet to connect a surveillance camera and avoid having to buy an expensive proprietary cable.

The box containing the roll has looked like it was nearly empty for a long time now. But the cable just keeps coming whenever we need it.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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10-3-04: LAN reconfiguration and expansion: wireless versus wired LANs

We've added another Linksys switch to our net. Created a new computer center of sorts in its own separate room, basically as a way to keep the number of kids using computers in my personal office to a minimum. Though it's good to be around to offer adult supervision for all kids on the internet (protecting the kids from coarse stuff, as well as protecting your computers from bad downloads), and help pre-school kids find and get started using online games, it's also tough for a grownup to concentrate on work when those online games or things like Garageband on the Mac are belting out such a huge amount of noise. Plus, kids like adults to look at every other thing they do or find on the net, which itself eats big chunks from work-time.

So now we have a PlayStation II, the iMac, and the G4 all in the same room to help address this problem.

We bought a new Linksys switch to split a major LAN cable from the central router into four computer connections for the new computing center. The major LAN cable is itself one of only four coming from our router. Of the other three, one goes to a switch in my office, which at present is feeding my HP and laptop, with slots for two more possible computers. Another major line feeds a third switch in another part of WebFLUX HQ on a desk with two printers on it, where two different Mac laptops tend to be plugged in on occasion (but only one at a time). Note this switch is the most under-used of all at the moment, as it could feed four different computers at once. The last major line so far feeds no switch of its own, but merely offers a direct link to a Mac Powerbook.

So right now we have eight open and largely unused slots for computers on our LAN where all you'd need is a short cable to plug in to everything.

I plan on extending the LAN from my office to another room via a hand-made long cable filling one of the unused switch slots there. This would allow me to easily connect my laptop to the net in a different location I frequently use.

We do have a problem though. The major LAN cable feeding the switch in the kids' computer room has broken a wire near its terminal end. So sometimes the connection there goes dead and can only be revived by manipulating the cable near the connection. This isn't a BIG problem, as I just need to cut off the existing connector and crimp on a new one. But it's pretty annoying. For installing new ends on Ethernet cabling is a real chore. That's the biggest reason I haven't already fixed that, or made a new cable for that other room I mentioned.

Due to the chore nature of putting these connectors on, I prefer to buy short (14 foot or less) LAN cables pre-made, and create myself only the longer runs, due to cost reasons.

So why did the connector on that main cable get flakey? Well, connectors installed by hand aren't usually as sturdy as factory ones. Plus the factory cables usually have little rubber or plastic boots protecting the connection from excessive bending, while manually made cables don't. On top of that, this particular cable suffered being plugged and unplugged daily on a laptop for maybe several years, and on top of that the laptop was often moved around while plugged up so that the cable got bent and rebent at 90 degree angles maybe several times every day. I've probably replaced this particular connector a couple times since originally running the cable itself through HQ. The last few years I got smarter and installed a butt connector and a short factory-made cable on the end of this main cable to help reduce the wear and tear. But still here we are today with the need to re-terminate than main cable once more.

Many would say at this point we should go with a wireless LAN. In theory, they would be right. In practice though, they'd be wrong.

First off, there's the security problem with wireless. Others can eavesdrop on you, or even steal your bandwidth without you knowing it.

Then there's the cost issue. You tend to pay a lot extra for wireless convenience, money-wise.

Then there's the trouble-shooting issue. Configuration of wireless connections tends to be considerably more complex than wired. And even after you get it running, any problems which show up afterwards offer up a LOT more variables to check out for solutions. So for many problems you might need a pro to run them down.

But who am I to say this about wireless? After all, I'm a wire user. Well, we tried wireless here for a while: Apple Airport. And it sucked big time. It's in the logs. But not THIS log. Because this is a LAN log, and we never managed to get a decent LAN working in our Airport days. To see some brief mentions of our Airport days please refer to the Apple iMac DV user's log. YUCK!

Yeah, our wireless foray was way back in 2000, and on problem-prone Steve Jobs Mac wares. So change this to industry standard Windows PCs, and updated hardware and software from 2004, and you will surely fare lots better than we did then. But I still wouldn't look forward to trying it again.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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6-16-04: A bolt out of the blue; power protection

Brown outs. Black outs. Power spikes. Lightning storms. A SOHO LAN with cable or DSL modem and a half dozen networked computers. What's the facts? How best to protect all this stuff?

#1 electronics threat: electrical power surges and fluctuations from electrical outlets

If you could monitor the ongoing voltage levels in your home or office, you'd likely find them fluctuating quite a bit over time-- somethimes dangerously so, where delicate electronics are concerned. But even if you don't experience all out outages or computer and TV frying spikes, these invisible fluctuations alone can shorten the life of your equipment. What causes fluctuations and spikes? Problems in your wiring; major appliances kicking on or off somewhere on your local circuit, like air conditioners, clothes washing machines, air compressors; problems at your power company; problems with the wires somewhere between your house and the power company (like a car hitting a pole with a transformer on it). Lightning strikes. And other possibilities.

First off, to have any shot at all at protecting your devices you MUST have modern grounded electrical outlets (three prong). If you have an old house with just two prong outlets, or three prong outlets that are really two-prongers in disguise (always test the ground circuit to be sure), then either have an electrician go in and rewire the whole house (it'll greatly reduce the danger of fire from electrical shorts, as well as enable the life-extension of your electronics and appliances), or pick one or a handful or rooms to have real three prongers installed.

After you have access to a true three prong outlet for your computer or other electronics, you need a surge protector to plug into it, hopefully offering up four or more three prong outlets of its own. Make sure you get a device that plainly says it's a surge suppressor or surge protector: there's lots of items out there superficially resembling surge protectors which are nothing more than multiple outlet extension cords.

ALWAYS plug your high value electronics like computers, big screen TVs, etc., ONLY into the surge protectors, NOT directly into the wall outlets, if at all possible.

#2 electronics threat: electrical power surges and fluctuations from telephone lines

Surge suppressors/protectors for telephone lines are available too, in both standalone form and built into some general purpose suppressors like those described before. Make sure the suppressor you're going to use for your computer or fax machine also includes a protected modem jack to plug into, and you can kill two birds with one stone here. Note you'll usually need a short, second telephone cable for installation; often these are included with such suppressors.

#3 electronics threat: electrical power surges and fluctuations from TV cables/cable modem lines

Bet you didn't know this one could bite you, did you? TV cable companies do seem to build in some protection for their networks and cables-- and the very nature of their service which is signal rather than power supply, is of some help in this circumstance-- but at present such protective measures seem mostly to limit the damage of a lightning strike to just one or a few houses in a neighborhood. So basically what the TV cable company does is make your house full of goodies a bit smaller target for lightning strike surges than the electrical power company does. That's it. The rest is up to you.

Having said that, I haven't personally seen a TV, VCR, or cable modem damaged by a surge through the cable system-- yet. But I've seen reports of it happening. Of surges even coming through to burn up cable modems, routers, switches, hubs, and the network cards inside computers-- but otherwise leaving the PCs themselves alive. But sheesh! That's a lot of fried gear! And I'd hate to just pray that my own surge didn't go ahead and kill my PC too while it was at it.

So what have we done about the possibility here at WebFLUX Central? We got what appeared to be a decent surge suppressor which included suppression for TV cable lines, and installed it in the circuit before the line even gets to our cable modem. We did the same with a second suppressor in the basement, on the cable that feeds the TV cable network for the whole building. In these two ways we hopefully protect all the TVs receiving TV signals with just one surge suppressor, and all the computers connected via Ethernet to a router connected to the cable modem, with but a single suppressor there. Viola!

#4 electronics threat: high, acute electrical surge threat due to severe thunderstorms smack on top of you, right now, in the present (or apparently imminent).

Of course, if the weather forecasts or current acoustic booms in the area indicate scary stuff happening, we go still further in our defensive efforts. For we're too poor here to easily or quickly replace electronic wares which burn up.

What do we do when the threat seems extreme? Shut down all computers, TVs, VCRs, etc. Turn off their surge protectors. Unplug the surge protector itself from the wall outlet, or if that can't be done conveniently, unplug all the devices from the surge protector.

I also at times will unplug the cable modem end of the Ethernet cable which goes to the central router-- which effectively takes all the computers in the place off-line. Yes, these are extreme and very inconvenient measures: but having all your equipment fried is still more inconvenient.

I may also take this power and internet connection measure when I'm about to leave on a trip likely to be an hour or longer, especially if I think there'll be no one around to man the defenses while I'm gone, and most certainly when there's news reports of bad weather imminent.

Of course, you may sometimes need to skirt the edge of danger to get an important job done. In that case you can track the storms in your region with periodically refreshed views of a web page displaying your local radar. Check out User log external reference links for a couple weather site suggestions for your own use (you'll want two choices because often one will quit working just as you need it most).

If you have cable TV you may also get the weather channel, which in my region does a 'local on the 8's' bit showing my local radar at 8, 18, 28, 38, 48, and 58 minutes after the hour (except during prime time).

So what if you absolutely MUST get something accomplished despite storm threats? In that case there's a couple options:

#1: Use a laptop-- and take it completely off the grid during the worst parts of a storm, letting it run off its battery. Most modern laptops will run at least 2-3 hours if fully charged to start with. When I say take it off the grid, I mean turn off the surge protector you have it plugged into, then actually unplug the laptop from the surge protector itself, so there's a definite break in the circuit between it and your normal AC power supply. I personally also disconnect my laptop from the Ethernet network during such times-- unless the whole network itself has already been disconnected at the cable modem.

#2: Get a stand by uninterruptible power supply with built-in surge suppression which will hopefully keep any frying to a minimum, even in a direct lightning strike to your home's wiring. Make sure it offers sufficient capacity to run as much of your desktop system as you might require in a pinch: CPU, display, printer, scanner, etc.; and for the time span you think necessary.

UPS's incorporate batteries; so I expect any given UPS will give out within a few years and have to have some component or the entire unit replaced or serviced in some fashion.

Note that UPS's can be valuable even when the only threat you face is an unexpected outage. The other day our power blinked during the crucial bootup time of my HP, causing the PC to hang up. I couldn't shut it down so I cut the power and waited a little while to make sure I didn't subject the PC to a series of blinks as they sometimes come in clusters here.

When I did feel it safe to proceed, the HP came up in safe mode, for maybe the first time ever(?) on this machine. I allowed the PC to try repairing itself, and fortunately things turned out well. But you don't want your PC being forced into safe mode if you can help it, as it's basically crippled in that mode for normal duties, and sometimes it can be difficult to ever get it out of that mode again.

It may also be that the US power grid will be suffering more and more frequent and spectacular outages in years to come, as our politicians nudge us ever near to banana republic status. So at some point we may all consider UPS's as essential.

I've wanted such a beast for maybe 20+ years now, but budgets are always very tight here. Luckily they've been coming down in price the last few years. Hopefully I'll have one soon. Thanks to my brother Scotty though, I already have a laptop as one contingency measure.

Please refer to User log external reference links for some of the links I came across while doing a little research on this topic.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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4-5-04: Our other network gets amplified

Our shared cable modem and Ethernet network isn't the only network at WebFLUX Central: there's also the cable TV net.

We recently upgraded the cable TV network with a device many folks may not even know exists: a cable TV signal amplifier. We bought a Philips Magnavox 10dB Signal Amplifier (one in, one out connections), for a price of around $20 if memory serves. The source was either Lowes or Home Depot we believe (we didn't get around to installing it until maybe 1-2 months after purchase).

We installed it at the point of entry of the TV cable into the building. We figured we'd try it there first, and maybe move it downstream later if unsatisfied with the effect.

WebFLUX Central is a good-sized building with at present some six computers on the Ethernet network, sharing a single cable modem, and nine conventional television sets in various rooms (usually set to news or business channels for adults, or cartoon channels for kids). Several other functional computers reside here too, but not as part of any network, for various reasons. There's also an assortment of other video displays, some security-related, some gaming, which remain separate from the two major cabling systems.

The large number of TVs spread out over a fairly large cublic volume leaves the cable TV signal somewhat depleted about mid-way and beyond into the structure, with one result being a handful of channels of less than optimal viewing clarity (fuzzy). Several of the TVs are likely to be moved about the place on occasion, being switched to different nodes on the cable system, and a few of these nodes offer such a weak signal that several channels out of the eighty or so available there might be wholly illegible at times. Naturally, virtually all the TVs sport different ages and functional specifications like screen size and resolution from one another (with perhaps the oldest a big and dim but serviceable 27 incher maybe 15-20 years old now(!)). But none are HDTVs, and we do not utilize set top cable boxes here.

Installation of the amplifier brought significant improvement to the entire collection, with of course those previously suffering the worst displaying the most dramatic improvement. But even our very newest big-screen TVs enjoying the best connections before the addition seemed to show some improvement as well.

I'd installed a signal amplifier on a corporate computer network zillions of years ago, and figured that something like that should exist for regular TV cable nets today-- and it did.

Indeed, the TV signal amplifier worked so well we're tempted to install a second amplifier somewhere 'downstream' of the first, to give an additional boost to five or so sets at the furthest ends of the line. But to be honest there's only a little more further signal amplification could do for even those boxes-- for they're already looking a lot better than before.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
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9-23-03: Local broadband ISP reliability and performance

I often see ads on TV promoting my local broadband internet provider versus satellite TV or dial up. In advantages over dial up the phrase 'always-on' net access (or something like that) is frequently repeated.

When I see that claim sometimes I want to laugh at its absurdity. Other times I want to cry out in frustration. For our internet access here is ANYTHING BUT 'always-on'.

When the problems show up, they typically show up in force, sometimes leaving us off-line for days at a time. Much more frequently however, the connection is just extremely flakey for days or even a week or more at a time. When I say flakey, I mean you might be able to surf normally for 10 or 20 minutes at a time, then hit a 'dead spot' period wherein you can go nowhere at all for as little as tens of seconds or as long as hours. At times the dead spot is more like a molasses slow spot instead, whereby our surfing speed is so horribly slow as to resemble the throughput of a 14.4 modem-- or worse.

There's often similar problems with email. That is, during the sporadic times that we actually have functional internet access, sometimes we still can't access our email through the ISP.

WebFLUX Central actually had a guy 'inside' the ISP company itself for a while, working as a cable connection installer and troubleshooter (Roger). He reported the sorry state of the company's local franchise's internals, and the ridiculously shoddy and unreliable central e-mail server they had servicing at least a couple of east Tennessee counties at once, if not more.

I eventually discovered I was actually losing important email messages in the system, both incoming and outgoing, with no more hint of the problem than lucky feedback from my correspondents about anomalous 'gaps' in episodic message streams. After comparing notes I realized using our local ISP for email was a hit or miss proposition, and so got a separate, web-based email account on Yahoo for use as my main address on-line.

Unfortunately, quite a few institutions won't allow you to use a web-based email address for contact info, and so I must still rely on my flakey ISP address for some of my most vital messaging. DOH!

Keep in mind we're paying through the nose for this account too-- because there's not much in the way of practical alternatives out here in the US boondocks where WebFLUX HQ is located (of course our limited budget is a factor as well).

I suppose I should exploit the private email possibilities on my web hosting accounts as a replacement, but there's lots of potential and proven problems there as well. For instance, elsewhere on site you can read about the horrendous problems I had with a web host when the owner of said host suffered some sort of mental and/or moral breakdown and effectively took my primary domain down indefinitely, leaving me and tens of thousands of other site owners pretty much helpless to restore our domains for a period of months. If I'd been using that domain for my primary email accounts too, I would have been even worse off for it.

So while setting up an alternative email address(es) on my paid domain(s) looks reasonable for contingency purposes, that won't necessarily solve the general problem, or even make a substantial contribution to its resolution.

So what's the overall effect of my unreliable ISP account? Less frequent and less comprehensive updates of the site. Less compilation of new information than might otherwise be the case. Less fact-checking and error correction. In short, lower quality and quantity site-wise than I would prefer to maintain. It also means when I have to troubleshoot a local NON-site-related problem net outages can make resolution consume much more time, money, and effort than it otherwise might.

Another consequence remains possibly important, but lost, email messages; such as messages from financial contributors through the Paypal and Amazon donation systems; or messages from my web site hosts, and certain other important business-related interactions. There may also be various correspondence between me and various site visitors lost at times, as not all such correspondence takes place through my yahoo account. Again, many institutions won't allow you to sign up with a web-based email account, and so you're stuck using your ISP or personal host domain email address-- both of which may be far less reliable than something like Yahoo mail, overall.

But I guess I'm not the only one in this boat. Surely millions of US citizens are suffering similar net reliability issues, and so subject to the same limitations. The US net seems to be trapped in the same low reliability mode as the state of our highways these days. Here in Tennessee it's getting increasingly difficult and inconvenient to drive further than a couple miles in any direction on a given day, as the roads are being resurfaced. And the same roads must be resurfaced almost every year (or every other year), as in America we've allowed our road building contracts to be politically corrupted, which means inferior paving materials are used that must be replaced almost immediately, over and over and over again. The CBS TV show 60 minutes did an expose on this years ago, comparing America's constant repaving to Europe's once in 20 or 30 year repaving needs. I'm afraid our internet infrastructure is going the same way. Sooner or later all this corruption, extra cost, and inefficiency just has to cause a worsening economic plight for the nation.

Around 15 miles from WebFLUX Central is a tiny road bridge, not much bigger than lots of folks' driveways. It's situated on the sole practical route between my home town and the nearest more substantial city: a mostly two lane state highway. That tiny bridge has been out of service now for months, forcing huge delays in transport on the route, as drivers must wait out a pretty long redlight which controls the traffic flow both ways over a single lane bottleneck.

It boggles my mind that replacing that tiny bridge is taking so much time, equipment, and manpower. They've got an enormous crane out there, among other construction equipment! For months! But so far as I can tell, me and one of my brothers could probably have completely replaced that bridge ourselves in a matter of days, using far less resources than the state has deployed there. Of course, maybe there's a secret underground bunker complex being built under that bridge, or some other huge project going on there of which I am unaware. But it really looks ridiculous.

Am I qualified to have an opinion on that project? Well, I was a construction worker during a couple stints from college. Heavily customized a pony car into a pseudo stock car in my youth. Worked in cutting cordwood and firewood various times. Helped build large wooden decks and do some house remodeling. Designed and built my own custom fold-up wooden desks and extra-wide air brushing easels. Made eight foot tall, four foot wide signs sturdy enough to mount on a building roof and survive East Tennessee summer storm wind gusts. Did most of the construction of the mammoth heat and cooling duct system inside WebFLUX Central. I also have engineering training. I have a brother that's an accomplished cabinet maker and auto body-work and paint man, not to mention a fine carpenter and plumber. He just finished building a whole new bathroom onto a house and laying a concrete floor in a garage that previously sported a dirt floor. He also built an underground drainage system to divert excess rain run off from the same underground garage, as well as designed and put together a whole new electrical system for the building to transform it into a formidable modern workshop (it's a two story garage, large enough to hold one car in each story; the top floor is now devoted to being a small metal and woodworking shop).

POSTSCRIPT: After writing most of the above we received a form letter from our ISP saying they'd been changing some stuff on their end so we might have noticed more problems than usual lately with our access. But happy days! They told us-- for the changes were winding down, and one result would be maybe an 8x increase in our surfing speed (that's my own off-the-top-of-my-head estimate, which could use a spec-check follow up). Wow! Eight times faster! That sounds great-- but I'd rather have a connection that simply worked when I needed it, please-- hold the extra speed and just give me more reliability...

Oh. One more thing. They basically said we'd get to enjoy this extra speed without doing anything on our end-- for five months (until March 2004). After that it appears our speed will slow back down again (huh?). It doesn't say this is a free preview of a more expensive tier of service (which apparently it is). So this may be another example of modern American lotto economics.

Have I noticed any speed up? Nope. Actually noticed only slowdowns and frequent and complete service outages. Plus, our monthly bill for this service already went up substantially the last couple years.

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8-9-03: We expand our network with a Linksys EtherFast 5-port network switch and a new Compaq laptop

My youngest brother Scotty stunned me with the gift of a new laptop, 7-19-03. Partly, it seems, because I'd helped him with a large software download the night before, and partly because he'd like to dispel my current bias favoring old-fashioned desktops over portables. And, of course, we all like to play Santa Claus from time to time, where possible.

It's a Compaq Presario 2170US. 2 GHz Celeron, 15 inch screen, 40 GB HD, 256 MB RAM, DVD/CD-RW. The first Windows XP machine I've ever owned.

A week later I ordered a couple Ethernet cables, an optical mouse, and a network switch, all through Amazon.com. This was the first time I'd ever ordered through Amazon I think. I was surprised to discover that Amazon was only a front for a plethora of different vendors, necessitating a separate shipping fee for merchandise coming from a different vendor. In my case I unwittingly put myself into a 'worst-case' scenario with my order, with each of the three different items coming from wholly different vendors, thereby making for three different shipping fees, which all totaled up ended up just about matching the total retail price of all the items ordered themselves. SHEESH! And these fees were for something like 7-10 business days rate-- NOT overnight, or anything like that. I shudder to think what speedier delivery would have cost.

Oh, for the days when I could order everything from Macwarehouse and pay a total of just $3.00 for overnight delivery (the early nineties).

Of course, finding any of these items locally may well have been impossible at any price in money, time, and travel. And even online or via hard copy catalog I probably couldn't have gotten them all at one place.

So what was I buying this stuff for in the first place? I tried and couldn't use the laptop in any serious manner without a real mouse. The touchpad thing just isn't adequate for much more than watching a DVD or checking email, or surfing the web. If you're going to actually do much writing or other creative endeavor, a mouse is a must.

So why an optical mouse? I hate cleaning mouse balls. I hate the way mechanical mice rapidly deteriorate as gunk builds up inside them from use. Optical mice are supposed to do away with all that, and are now available on the low end for only about twice the price of a cheap mechanical. I bought the cheapest Microsoft optical mouse I could find. From various reviews I'd seen in the past, a Microsoft mouse or keyboard seemed like a reasonably good product for the money.

For quite some time I'd been sharing a single Ethernet connection in my office among at times several computers, connecting and disconnecting as needed. This is tiresome, wears on ports, and is not very efficient. So I bought a network switch to expand the network in my office to several more machines simultaneously. A hub would also do this job, and for somewhat less cost, but would often work slower than a switch.

We already have a Linksys router we've been pretty pleased with, so Linksys had a leg up on their competition here. Still though, I looked around at some reviews before buying, as it's been a few years since the router buy, and I knew circumstances could have changed. Apparently Linksys was bought out by Cisco (if I recall correctly), and I did run across some complaints about lowered product quality or increased usage glitches with Linksys gear from the past few years. But in general it appeared the Linksys stuff was still more or less holding its own with competitors in forums and reviews, so I went with Linksys again. The exact model number was EZXS55W ver. 3.

If I was going to connect my single office Ethernet cable to the new switch, and then connect the switch to two or more computers downstream simultaneously, I also needed at minimum a couple straight-through Ethernet cables, preferably around 8 to 10 feet long. I do possess the info, tools, and supplies to make these cables myself I believe, left over from my original LAN construction. But by golly, terminating those Ethernet connections is really, really annoying, especially for someone with bad eyesight. Plus, such Do-It-Yourself termination results in cable ends which are very vulnerable to adverse conditions, such as frequent connects/disconnects, or other movement of the devices they are attached to, such as laptops. WebFLUX Central has already seen cable ends in such conditions break off and require redoing at least twice.

So I'm not too keen on the DIY route for cable-making, where I can avoid it. I ran across some 10 foot cables made by Linkysys at Amazon and ordered them.

About a week later, everything had arrived. I installed the mouse per instructions: it worked fine. Making sure the switch and both PCs it would connect to were turned off first, I then plugged everything in. I took the Ethernet connection I'd previously been using for my HP PC and plugged it into the 'uplink' port on the switch. Then I used the two new 10 foot cables to connect from each of two PCs to the switch.

Note that it wasn't spelled out in either the router or switch docs as to how exactly the user was to connect the two devices to one another. Indeed, some of the info seemed downright contradictory. Searching the internet for more info didn't help either. Yeah, maybe I was being way too cautious here-- but I'm an OLD computer geezer, and seen way too many GOTCHAS! erupt out of nowhere in many cases where I or others jumped into various technical tasks with inadequate preparation or information. I didn't want to damage any of my equipment, among other concerns.

After considering the matter for a while, I decided on just trying the normal PC-end of one my network's straight-through wired Ethernet cables plugged into the uplink port of the switch (leaving the opposite end in the same router port it was before), and leaving the uplink port on the router itself empty as always.

I turned on power to the switch, so it could establish a connection to the router (which had remained on throughout the process). I then turned on the two PCs.

Both PCs could now surf the web simultaneously. Yay!

A few days later I finally had the time to try getting the two PCs to share files. This turned out to be pretty much as hard and frustrating as on an Apple Mac OS X machine trying to share files with older Mac OS 9 computers.

After much fiddling with various settings on both the HP and Compaq, plus web searches for tips, I finally honed in on the problem: the Windows XP internet connection firewall on the laptop had to be disabled. That firewall isn't as necessary for us here as it might be for some other folks, because we already have a router with a built-in firewall between all our computers on the LAN, and the cable modem.

But even after this I couldn't access the HP's shared folder from the laptop, because the HP was demanding a password for 'guest' access, and wouldn't accept anything I gave it.

I was able to access the shared documents folder on the laptop from the HP, however.

At this point my notes get a bit unclear. But I believe what happened next was I copied roughly 90 MB of files from my old Compaq 5151 desktop to a 100 MB ZIP disk, then stuck the disk into a USB ZIP drive connected to the laptop to transfer the files to it (the 5151 you see is not on the LAN, due to having fried both its onboard slow Ethernet port and a later inserted fast Ethernet port card, and I haven't tried putting another in since).

Surprise, surprise. A GOTCHA!

Turns out ZIP disks in formats compatible with Windows98 or Windows ME are totally and utterly incompatible and unreadable by Windows XP, no matter what you do. And vice versa. It took me a while to confirm all this, via searches on the internet, downloading and installing the latest Iomega ware for drives, etc. So the old standby 100 MB ZIP disk format that served me so well in transferring from ancient Mac Quadras to iMacs, and then to Windows98 and WindowsME PCs (when burning CDs for such tasks was VERY problematic, by comparison), has run its course, and will no longer be of any help whatsoever in such migrations.

Goodbye sweet ZIP. But at least I can still use your format for incremental backups on all my machines-- even if now each of those backup disks will be incompatible with the other operating systems involved. UGH!

So I was forced to transfer all my files from the Ethernet-less 5151 to the HP desktop via ZIP disk about 90 MB at a time, and after that transfer was over, from the HP to the laptop via Ethernet network (through the switch). All this worked out to around 1.4 GB I believe.

I ran into another snag whenever Windows encountered text files that had originally been created on a Mac and transferred to a PC, years back. At that point network copying would often get agonizingly slow, with the Windows ME machine gradually slowing to a crawl, unable to even update its display more than once every 15 minutes or so.

I managed to speed this process up somewhat by breaking the copy tasks down from single monolithic folders to a single folder at a time from within that large folder, and often reboot the HP inbetween folder copies. Of course, that meant I had to perform much of the copying manually, being tied to the HP for several hours in the ordeal.

Ahh. This part reminded of my iMac and OS 8 and 9 days. AGGH!

Another tip on such copying: Drag and drop the folder or file to be copied to the shared documents folder itself, rather than a nested folder within that folder. For some reason copying to a nested folder wreaked havoc with WindowsME.

OK. That being done, I needed to equip my laptop with anti-virus protection. If you're on a Mac, and not using Microsoft Office or Word, you're quite a bit safer than the typical PC user. But any Windows user who surfs the net these days or uses email without virus protection on their machine is just asking for trouble-- and will likely get it within 90 days.

Mcaffee virus scan has worked well for me on my HP. It came as a 90 day trial version on the new PC I believe, and I bought a subscription after that. It's saved me from attacking viruses at least several times, from web sites, email, and even old infected files from archives.

I did a Google search to find a handy place to buy and download it online, and got directed to mcafee.digitalriver.com

I bought it for $34.95. Note that someone like me only needs virus scan online, and none of the other bells and whistles mcafee would like to sell us.

I bought it on 8-3-03 and dutifully jotted down my order number and saved to disk various web pages which I knew from experience might be essential later on.

Then I ran into another GOTCHA!

The site instructed me to click the download button to get what I'd paid for. BUT THERE WAS NO DOWNLOAD BUTTON. Only buttons whereby you could spend more money to get the program on CD through snail mail, or get an extension to the normal 30 day period you had to download the software. BUT THERE WAS NO DOWNLOAD BUTTON. And yes, I had already paid for it with my credit card. I just couldn't have what I'd paid for.

I consulted the site help and FAQ, which all pointed me back to the same page with no download button again. I entered my order number into a blank provided to get another chance to download, and still all I got was the same page with no button.

OK, I thought. Maybe the laptop has some new version of Windows XP that prevents the download button from showing. So I surfed to the site on my Windows ME PC, figuring I'd save the download to disk if possible (sites don't always offer you that option), and then transfer it to the laptop via LAN to install there.

But when I visited the site with Windows ME, again, THERE WAS NO DOWNLOAD BUTTON.

I looked up a form or email contact for Mcafee and wrote them about the problem. Meanwhile, I was afraid to do very much with the laptop, as it possessed no virus protection.

FIVE DAYS LATER I finally got a reply from Mcafee. They told me to try downloading from http://us.mcafee.com instead.

It apparently worked. I immediately had the new software scan the laptop for viruses. None was found (the process requires HOURS).

After being sure the laptop was virus-free, I surfed over to a couple sites offering free 3-D rendering software that me and a niece and nephew have been wanting to try out for ages. Last time I checked both required Windows XP or a certain version of Mac OS X that we didn't have (even our G4 Mac was running a version of X too new according to the specs).

Unfortunately, it appears it's Windows XP Pro that's required for PCs (plus some other fancy gear) that I still don't have. Sigh.

So we checked to see if they'd updated the package to run on our version of Mac OS X yet. The site said they had! But when we went to download it, it just said they would have it, sometime in fall of 2003. So no 3-D for us!

So instead I burned two CDs worth of data files from the laptop, three CD copies each, for archival purposes. It'd been quite a while since I did this, and it was way overdue. One copy of the two CDs I'll keep handy in my office for reference, another in a safe elsewhere, and the third at a remote location, in case of major disaster at WebFLUX central.

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3-28-03: ISP OUTAGE

If it isn't one thing, it's another (see this page for related troubles). As of 6:30 PM today, my broadband internet service provider has NOT been providing a signal since at least 11:30 AM.

Our provider gave us a similar outage of maybe close to 24 hours only around one week ago (AGGH!). In that episode, after trying everything I could on this end to rectify matters, I finally contacted their tech support and had to admit to owning a router (AGGH! again). The tech said they'd send someone out to check our connection within TWO DAYS(!) Either by coincidence or design, our cable modem lit back up again around an hour after my call. I'm holding off calling again this time though. Basically it seems all you can do is wait out the outages, after you've made sure nothing's wrong on your end. Note that Roger used to be an installer for these folks, and so gave me some insider info on their local operation, which is not exactly what you'd call robust. Their email server goes down frequently (especially after storms), and general web access suffers outages of maybe an hour or so around once or twice a month. Much worse outages, like this one, seem to occur much less often (I mark these occasions on a calendar).

So at the moment I'm blind, deaf, and mute, so far as the internet is concerned. I can't access the news or gather new material for research, receive or send e-mail, update my web sites, or even confirm my sites themselves are up and running. I'd like to maintain a wholly independent ISP account for just such occasions, but that may be expensive in both time and money. My present AOL account is 'bring your own access', which means it's dependent on my broadband connection, and therefore not nearly as handy as a backup account as would be optimal. There's some freebie ISP accounts available but even assuming they reliably worked when needed (which is assuming a lot) an entirely separate PC might have to be dedicated to such an account due to configuration realities. And the time limits on such accounts make them a lot like my present AOL account, in that if I happened to use it too long I'd have to start paying a fairly stiff amount per hour for the privilege, over and above what I already pay monthly. And I almost certainly would go over the maddeningly brief time allotted. YIKES!

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11-20-02: Our broadband ISP recently forced a cable modem replacement on us in a rather abrupt and unexpected fashion

What follows is my (revised) side of an email exchange with Roger and others concerning the matter (I've left out Roger's side for privacy reasons-- but you should well get the gist from the content below; I also replaced my ISP's name with the generic "ISP" for legal reasons):

Subject: ISP phone call Date: Monday, October 14, 2002 2:34 PM

Have any of you gotten a canned (pre-recorded) phone call claiming to be ISP, saying your present cable modem would stop working on the 23rd (unsure which month), but if you'd call ISP they'd bring out a replacement modem?

Our call came in via call waiting during another call, so we didn't get a caller ID or the message on tape.

-- JR

Subject: Re: ISP phone call Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2002 12:25 PM

Thanks Roger!

Yeah, I think it's a scam too. At least until I see more evidence to support ISP's role. Part of the reason I emailed you and Edwin was to alert you to the possibility.

I checked ISP's web site and the latest email they sent me, and found no mention of cable modem replacements. They ARE replacing some Motorola set top boxes because of electrical problems (we don't have a set top). They also say something about rolling out a new VoIP phone service apparently over the modems-- but again, there was no mention of a modem replacement campaign with that item (that I saw, anyway).

Like you, I figure they'd send a snail mail about this.

-- JR

Subject: Re: ISP phone call Date: Friday, October 18, 2002 4:46 PM

Roger/Edwin, we got a second call, this time recorded on the answering machine. After that I got a phone number off our ISP bill (rather than calling the number in the message), and tried calling ISP to check the validity of the message.

Oct 23 is said to be the date the old modems stop working.

I wasted lots of time on busy signals and on hold without ever getting anyone.

Then suddenly two guys showed up at our door with a replacement modem-- a Scientific Atlanta brand if I recall correctly, that sits vertical rather than horizontal, with fewer lights, and a USB port added in. The guys said the USB port could be used instead of Ethernet to connect a computer-- but they didn't recommend it (version 1.0 drivers I suspect).

I replaced the modem myself and it seems to be working with the router and HP PC OK so far. Haven't tried the Macs yet though.

There's a bundled PC/Mac CD. I don't plan to install any software unless absolutely necessary, but I may look at the modem pdf manual.

-- JR

Subject: Re: ISP phone call Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 9:11 PM

It said ISP on the truck, and they said they were from ISP.

I thought the old modem said 3com on it. The new one stands upright and is a Webstar DPX110.

Maybe the rolling changeover is in sections/territories. Or maybe they're just targeting folks with 'extra gear', and they'll be able later to spring new charges on them.

-- JR

Subject: Re: MODEM REPLACEMENT Date: Thursday, October 24, 2002 10:57 PM

Roger, the new modem seems to work fine so far with our old Linksys router. For both my HP PC (Win ME) and two Macs running OS X. It may even be a bit faster than the previous modem-- though I haven't measured the speed exactly.

I did shut down all the clients and router before replacing the modem, then gave the modem several minutes to go online, then switched on the router and gave it several minutes, before turning on any clients.

Note I was luckily here when ISP arrived, and did NOT allow them to see or touch our stuff. I switched out the modems myself.

(Be sure to remind your friend it doesn't hurt to check that all the cables are properly connected, and that no networking board worked loose somehow.)

One thing I've noticed with ISP is that if you develop an internet problem WAIT a few hours before deciding the problem is on your end-- and even then be skeptical, and try testing or calling other local ISP users to verify it's really your problem before changing your set up. ISP has plenty of hiccups in its service. Occasionally the service is quite iffy for several days at a time (trust me Roger: I'm likely online much more often you are, and thus usually more aware of ISP reliability at a given moment).

I'd be especially skeptical of 'my end' problems if I hadn't installed anything new or changed configurations on my net and clients in weeks or longer, nor experienced any weird behavior of other sorts on the systems before the internet problem showed itself.

If you decide too fast it's your problem, you may create one where it didn't really exist before.

I've got experience with at least four other ISPs besides ISP (AOL, Planet Connect, Earthlink, and BellSouth), and they all pretty much were the same in this regard-- although they wouldn't usually admit it to anyone except someone obviously familiar with the nuts and bolts when they called in).

OK, now back to assuming it IS a 'this end' problem...

Maybe the ISP techs simply screwed up the net config on one or more of your friend's clients while there? I changed absolutely nothing on our clients here.

Did the techs connect the modem to a pc via USB? I'm sure THAT (and the v1.0 USB driver) would screw up all sorts of things-- our own ISP visitors themselves recommended NOT using the USB option.

A tech wouldn't have maybe touched a port or internal component the wrong way and burned up some hardware would they?

Your friend might try a staged power reset of the entire LAN, per manual instructions; if that doesn't do it, try the reset button on the router that puts it back to factory settings.

Routers like Linksys have quite a few internal config options (available via a browser interface) for changing set ups that might be relevant (if you can find out what they are; documentation can be scant).

There's also of course both the router and modem manuals to check for troubleshooting info, plus the world wide web (forums, etc. I list some general purpose spots in my page J.R.'s Dirt Cheap PC and Killer Deals Page ).

Some routers might need updates of their flash memory stores from the mothership to deal with some changes in circumstance: I believe the LinkSys manual (or web site) mentions this possibility.

If worst comes to worst, he might try just getting the modem to work with ONE PC, then sharing that PC's connection with the other PCs by routing AROUND the router rather than through it(?) until he can find a better way?

I don't envy anyone the do-it-yourself research and trial and error often required to overcome such matters. On the brighter side, if you can figure out who to call, there might be a local geek who'll fix it in a jiffy for $90(!) an hour. YIKES!

-- JR

PS: Think $90 an hour is outlandish for a geek? I know of at least one bunch paying at least one geek $175 per hour more than a year ago-- and probably STILL doing it(!) The geek in question was essentially one who'd personally wrote and configured all the most critical software in the company over a period of years.

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9-29-02: Has setting our router password and updating OS X solved most of our router problems?

Well, we've not had any more significant router disruptions for a while now. Still not sure what the cause was earlier. Have various Mac OS X upgrades from Apple removed some problem the G4 was causing earlier? Maybe. Our ISP may have been hiccuping on its own in a few of the instances, with nothing wrong on our end. Roger thinks maybe some distant lightning strikes were somehow percolating through the ISP's system from time to time-- even when no such storms were anywhere near us personally. But we don't shut down the cable modem and router during stormy weather. Just the clients. Both devices' power lines are on well grounded outlets and surge protectors, though.

I don't believe I fiddled any with the G4's net prefs. The owner did any and all upgrade downloads/installs which may have been accomplished since my last post.

One thing seems to jump out at me here. Changing the router password to something other than its default. It seems we've had far fewer problems since I did that. I'm not sure if we've even had to reset the router a single time since that (I'd have to check my notes to be sure). Could it be we had hackers knocking on our router door before that, thereby causing our problems? It seems doubtful, but probably not impossible.

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6-27-02: More net outage issues and considerations

Another net outage today. Seemed to coincide with the first access to the web of the G4 in several days. The outage wasn't quite total-- everything just started running very, very slow. It was happening to my PC, our iMacDV, and the G4. Only minutes before web access on the PC was fine.

The G4 user shut down and disconnected from the LAN and suddenly all the other machines had fast web access again. Coincidence? Maybe. Our ISP is known to have brownouts and outright outages from time to time, without any need of assistance from buggy or misconfigured software. I'm throwing this incident onto the raw data pile, and instructing the G4 user to re-connect the G4 next time it's shut down. We need to determine exactly what's happening here. I do suspect the G4's OS X for various reasons, including info I've seen on the web about others having net problems with it. But info is scarce on the subject, since so few people are using OS X (Apple's total world marketshare including both 9 and X may be under 3%), and even fewer of them may have their Macs on LANs utilizing Linksys routers. Plus, if they're having major net problems lots of them probably can't get online long enough to post info about it. DOH!

The G4 user is starting to feel persecuted, since I'm so grouchy about continually troubleshooting the problems around here (which usually seem to be with the Macs in some way). But heck, I'm an Old Computer Geezer and we can't help being grouchy. Especially when we can remember the Good Old Days when Macs were the shining star of computing, with almost no problems at all compared to PCs-- and today they often seem to be the opposite.

I haven't yet tried the possible re-configuration of the OS X G4's network preferences mentioned previously. But it looks like I need to. If that doesn't work, I may have one or two other measures to try, saved in some HTML pages downloaded from the web. Beyond that, some sort of OS X update from Apple may be necessary. Beyond that, I might try a firmware update of the Linksys router. But I'd only do that as a last resort, since firmware updates seem pretty risky for PCs and may be for routers too (they're just cheaper computers). Plus, Linkysys for quite a while forthrightly proclaimed they guaranteed and supported no functionality or compatibility with regards to Apple products whatsoever. So far as I'm aware they have not changed that policy (And for someone like me with Macs on the LAN, that's one good reason NOT to upgrade the router's firmware-- for that might only worsen the compatibility of Macs with the LAN, rather than improve it).

There's also the fact that our ISP may simply be having some new hiccups due to different hardware or software or protocols being applied by them to their net. I've seen some posts on slashdot saying some folks are having to power reset their routers/LANs once or twice a week due (they think, anyway) to such problems with their ISP. And what if ISPs become adverse to subscribers utilizing routers to enable home LANs and shared internet access? Such a move enables the subscriber to come much closer to using 100% of the cable modem bandwidth they're paying for (in our case around 256kbps I think) over 8-12 hours a day, thereby maybe throwing way off the ISP's internal calculations about expected differences between what bandwidth they promise to a subscriber, and the small fraction of that bandwidth they actually expect a subscriber to be able to use, if said subscriber has only one computer hooked to the cable modem and so perhaps only maxes out their 256kbps during huge and lengthy downloads of music or software, and more typically spikes out at just 50- 150k for a second or three as they surf web sites, over perhaps a 2-3 hour period. And this rate wouldn't likely change even if multiple users replaced one another in a sequence on the single PC over the course of a day. But put a couple power users on two computers plus maybe several kids rotating out as users on a flash-enabled web site all on the cable modem at once, and that modem might peg out at 256kbps in a fairly sustained fashion many times every hour, for eight or more consecutive hours a day.

So some ISPs might get annoyed at such efficient subscribers, and maybe periodically broadcast a few packets designed to disupt routers and/or their clients everywhere throughout the ISP's base, but maybe pass unnoticed for regular non-router owners. In many cases this could knock LAN-owning subscribers off the net for hours or days-- in some cases for weeks. And certainly force some of the folks to call up the ISP complaining or asking for help, and disclosing to the ISP that they have routers. One way or another many subscribers might also end up paying much more for their service, or disconnecting their router and disabling their shared internet access, to return to a single computer feeding off the cable modem again.

I'm pretty sure everything I describe in the previous paragraph is technically possible for ISPs to do, if they wish. Is this happening, somewhere, to some broadband users? I guess we'll just have to wait and see what reports come in. In my own case it's too early to tell. As I said before, it may be a Mac OS X problem, or an innocent change in my ISP's wares or techniques which may even require a router firmware update all its own to remedy. Heck, it could even be a bug in the router firmware itself that only showed up recently due to changing conditions.

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Around 6-23-02: Another net outage, and some study on the problem

I finally got around to changing the default password on the router. Yeah, lots of folks will say WHAT!? Surely you did this eons ago! But no, I didn't. The Linkysys manual talked like this was only a security problem from inside the LAN; that folks could access the router configuration screens with the default password only from this side of the router-- not from external sources (like the internet). Lately though I saw some indications that outsiders might, after all, be able to access the router from the internet under certain relatively easy to arrange circumstances. So I changed the password. After all, with the weird problems we've been having lately I had to rid myself of the intruder possibility to narrow things down.

In general though I dislike changing or creating new passwords unless it really seems necessary. Partly because it can be such a hassle keeping track of multiple passwords. And I've already got at least a dozen different ones to manage. And encounter regular problems due to other folks not keeping track of their own passwords. Folks seem to create or change them all the time and NOT WRITE THEM DOWN anywhere, or else so poorly consider their password selection they can never remember them again later. In many cases the only thing that saves the users in my care is that I myself set their original passwords years and years ago, and so I can go back in my records to find them. Of course, where they've changed things without my knowledge I must go to ridiculous lengths to set things right again-- where it's possible to do so at all. Agh! Keep in mind many folks under my care are NOT on any sort of common LAN where I enjoy the God-like powers of a net administrator with which to correct mistakes by users. So I often have to fix things the hard way. And password crap is usually the worst part of the messes to get past.

BUT ANYWAY...I've been doing some LAN/Linksys router/Mac OS X research on the web to see if X might be causing some of our recent net problems. After all, the net only began acting this way sometime after we had OS X come into the place.

I found some indication this might be the case. That X might be causing problems in the process where the router normally 'leases' a time-limited server address from our ISP. X might be forcing the router to give up a perfectly good IP too early, and for some reason the router then becomes unable to successfully get a new one from our ISP until after a power reset, for some reason. Or perhaps X is simply forcing the router to ask for new address leases too frequently for the various hardware/software/ISP protocols to gracefully accept.

Various fixes for this and other possible X/LAN/router problems were listed. One was to go into OS X NAT/DNS network preferences and enter the domain server address as "" (this number represents the router), and delete completely any differing info that might already be present there. Then click 'apply now'.

The reason for all this research and changing the router password was another LAN outage. After the outage had lasted a while (maybe an hour or so?) I called Roger who uses the same ISP but on a 'different node' he says, to see if his internet access was out too. It wasn't. In at least some cases in the past when we suffered an outage Roger has too. Roger advised me on various things to try or check, but in the end I had to simply shut down the net and reboot it as before. And after that everything worked again. This time there had been NO switching of LAN connections from one machine to another, since the last outage. So the switching act doesn't seem to be the cause of the outages.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
User log external reference links

6-17-02: Network outage and reboot

Yesterday afternoon or evening we noticed our internet access was down. This isn't unusual for several minutes to even a few hours, for our ISP. I did test access on more than one computer to make sure there was more than one machine affected.

I checked the light indicators on the modem and router, and they seemed to jibe with an outage of our ISP rather than internal problems.

However, when the outage stretched to around 5-6 hours, it was getting into unusual territory for the last year or so of access (even for a Sunday night). So I shut down all the computers, the router, and the cable modem, in that order. I let things stay dead a few minutes, then switched the cable modem back on. Maybe 10-15 minutes later I switched the router back on. Maybe 10 minutes later I booted my HP PC. Net access seemed fine.

Was the problem with the router? Or did our ISP just coincidentally come back online around this time? There was a switch of a network cable between two Macs sometime before the outage was noticed.

I've advised the Mac user to avoid switching the cable for a while-- hopefully I'll soon get a new connector onto another cable they need in order to stop using a single connection for the two Macs.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
User log external reference links

5-24-02: My Linksys Router user manual actually recommends I do precisely what I warned others against in the previous log item

Namely, switch off my cable modem separately from my router, in a particular task.

This was actually the last step in a repair or maintenance process born from troubleshooting my iMac's sudden inability to connect to our network. Unwilling to nuke my iMac hard drive with a OS re-install after trying lots of other tweaks, I turned to our Compaq Presario 5151, only to encounter similar problems, and finally opting to re-install Windows 98 on the PC.

Despite my best efforts, all the Ethernet ports on these machines appeared dead, even though various diagnostic utilities indicated otherwise.

All this made me suspect the problem was with the router rather than the computers. And I was right. When I first set up the router I told it we'd only be connecting four computers to it. But we ended up with as many as seven being swapped out on various cables over time. My iMac, the iMacDV, the 5151, a PowerBook G3, a G4, my HP, and the 6400.

Months ago I noticed the 6400 no longer seemed to work very well or at all on the net when connected. I suspected the problem source to be anything but the router. Of course, I didn't try very hard to troubleshoot this, as the 6400 is a pretty slow and unreliable web client pretty much no matter what you do. And we did have a shortage of net connections available anyway. Sometime after that Roger tried the 5151 on the net, and found it dead. He flexed his considerable PC expertise against what he (and I) figured was a PC configuration problem, but finally gave up and declared the Ethernet card we'd added to have died there.

We added the G4 to the net for web surfing but not file-sharing, as it appears much harder to get OS X to file-share than OS 9. A PowerBook G3 also had a dedicated net connection in the same room. The older of these two cables seemed to be giving intermittant connection problems, which I attributed to all the wear and tear the home-made cable was getting near the connector, from being moved around so much on the back of a laptop, as well as other things. I recently cut off the connector end of that cable to replace it, but haven't got around to that yet. So in the meantime a single net cable may be on occasion switched back and forth between the G4 and PowerBook-- or at least may have been in the 60 days or so preceding this log entry.

A few days ago I switched my HP's net cable to my iMac to upload some AOL domain files. But it appeared my iMac's Ethernet port was dead. Note that I did NOT immediately recall all the other clues outlined above, but rather tackled the problem as one of mis-configuration of my iMac-- even though I had not changed any configurations on the machine in ages. I couldn't get the iMac online, so I tried the 5151. Ran into the same wall there, and THEN began suspecting the router.

I dug up the router's user manual, went into its web interface and upped the number of clients to be controlled from 4 to 10. You see, apparently the router was only creating 4 net IDs, and our switching around among 7 different computers finally consternated the router enough for it to start banning some of the machines from being linked. Or something like that.

I followed the rest of the instructions there as well, including switching off the cable modem for a few minutes without switching off the router, so that the router's new settings would 'take'.

Note I expect this manuever to give me some problems down the road, forcing a power down and back up again of the entire LAN at some point (see previous entry), but so far I've yet to encounter these problems.

Anyway, after this my iMac had no problem getting online at all, and after all the various cable switching involved in the troubleshooting, still my HP, the DV, and the G4 seem to all be functioning online again just as before.

I guess I'll have to break down and buy a couple hubs to make the extra computer connections permanent and unchanging, in order to minimize problems like these in the future. I'll probably try to get Linksys hubs.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
User log external reference links

12-28-01: DON'T switch off your cable modem separately from your router

Well, I've discovered you can experience some weird problems with your LAN if you turn off your cable modem momentarily for some reason.

We had a printer go dead at WebFLUX Central that just happened to share a power connection with our cable modem. The modem got switched off somewhat inadvertantly during testing. I wasn't much worried about it because the net has weathered several power outages since installation, with nary a hiccup. But come to find out the router definitely doesn't like the cable modem going down alone.

The clues were subtle. A few of the web sites I regularly visit seemed to no longer be updated by their authors. Turns out there's a cache of some sort inside the router itself (maybe 512 MB(!) if I remember the docs correctly). And some glitches with the cable modem will cause your browser to never get fresh copies of certain site again, no matter how often you click refresh-- you'll just always get the old copies from the router cache instead.

The fix? Shut down all the computers on your net. Shut down the router. Turn off the cable modem. Wait a couple minutes. Turn the cable modem back on. Wait five to ten minutes to make sure the modem gets its packets in order with your ISP. Turn the router back on. Wait five minutes or so. Then turn on whatever computers you want on the LAN. Everything's hunky dory again.

As for a general update or status report on our LAN of the past year, it seems to have held up pretty well. Much better than I expected, actually.

We currently have my HP PC, an Apple Powerbook G3, and an iMac DV on the LAN. We did also have our Mac Performa 6400 online, but the old Mac runs the internet so slowly we decided to switch its connection to the Compaq 5151 instead. Unfortunately, the Ethernet card in the Compaq died and put the kibosh on that.

Files are frequently shared over the LAN between the iMac DV and Powerbook, and both those Macs and my PC regularly surf the web simultaneously via the LAN, sharing a single cable modem. The main problems we have stem from our ISP's occasional outages or slowdowns, or slowdowns on internet backbones themselves, rather than anything happening with our own LAN. But our ISP has never once been down long enough to warrant us setting up to use their dial up contingency system (not yet, anyway). Our ISP is Charter Communications by the way, I believe owned by one of Bill Gates' original business partners.

I read on ZD Anchordesk someone saying Windows XP wouldn't work with Linksys products. I read this a few days after I had put first one, then a second, XP PC on the net (connected to my Linksys router), and surfed the web and downloaded and installed OS updates with no problem, over a couple days per each PC. There were a few confusing configuration moments due to the interface changes XP shows over ME, but other than that things ran fine. My brother Scotty has told me since that there's some networking functionality XP professional has that XP Home Edition doesn't-- specifically something about flexibility with regards to accessing different domains, which makes the Home version not very suitable for office environments. I also read elsewhere that some sort of networking security issues differ between the home and business versions. But I had no problem.

SOHO LAN User's Log Contents
User log external reference links

1-14-2001: WebFLUX HQ goes broadband; a new fast Ethernet and broadband sharing LAN, complete with router is taking form

So what changed my mind about broadband? Much urging from friends Edwin and Roger; fatigue with the necessity to dial up to connect; recent reliability problems with Earthlink dialup; a desire for still greater productivity after enjoying a 600% gain in some areas from recent successes regarding the Apple iMac Revision D; analysis of all related costs; etc., etc.

It appears that dropping an extra phone line here at WebFLUX Central, along with its extra cost long distance discount plan, will more than pay the monthly fee required for a cable modem.

There was also the possibility of even greater short term savings by maybe paying $200 up front to buy the cable modem, rather than paying a rental on it-- but I checked with Roger who has the inside scoop on such deals and he said that's a path best not taken in our case, as it absolves the cable company from many responsibilities regarding the modem, and might even cost us still more if a cable modem replacement/upgrade becomes deployed throughout the company net later-- as rather than the company just switching out a rental modem for us for free, we might have to buy it. YIKES!

So anyway, we might come out ahead by $10-$20 a month by going cable and dropping the extra phone line-- and get a faster connection to boot. Just from the savings of dropping the extra phone line plus long distance plan on the line.

After dropping the Earthlink dial-up account too, the total savings should jump to $30-$40 a month (maybe a bit more, since we were paying extra for more than one email address there).

And unlike dial-up, broadband speeds promise sufficient bandwidth to allow high quality telephone conversations over the internet too-- at likely considerably lower prices than standard long distance rates. Of course, realizing those savings via properly set up net phone accommodations is a whole other subject, for another day.

So how about the reliability problem discussed in previous entries in other user logs onsite? Well, the cable company has instituted a backup dial up option that we could exploit for such times. Plus, as they've now had a couple years to iron out bugs in this area surely such outages will be less and less frequent as time goes by. Then there's the fact that NO ISP appears to be completely reliable. Both AOL and Earthlink local numbers sometimes shut you out with busy signals. Sometimes their email works but surfing doesn't, and vice versa. Sometimes you appear to log on but can't surf and/or email, due to other types of glitches. During my years with AOL I've seen brief outages of an hour or so, and a couple doozies which lasted days. Lately Earthlink, which had seemed rock solid for a month or two after we signed up, developed frequent problems with busy signals or non-working email, etc., etc. Still worse, I discovered Earthlink had precious few alternative access numbers for this area. And both AOL and Earthlink pretty much required rural folks like us to sign up for extra cost long distance plans with our phone companies, since they had no true local access numbers for us.

I must still say though that the local cable service itself has had a shaky track record in reliability the last couple years. But hopefully the problems are partially due to the service only being in existence that long; AOL and Earthlink are several times older than our local cable modem service. Some months back I know for a fact the cable service was essentially down for three days; you could surf major sites like CNN or Yahoo at reasonable speeds, but everything else was so slow as to be essentially inaccessible. Much more recently (a week or so ago), the cable modem went completely down for several hours one night-- the incident I describe elsewhere in this entry which took place while I was troubleshooting the LAN itself. My cousin Edwin describes something like a two week or longer outage on the service a year or so ago, which practically drove him nuts. Hopefully such extended outages won't be happening again (GULP!). Plus, they've instituted the dial up backup plan since that calamity. And I made sure to get the dial up configuration info from them at signup.

But what of the reduced flexibility in access? That is, with a dialup account like AOL or Earthlink several PCs/Macs can access the net-- just not all at the same time. With a cable modem just one PC/Mac can do so, under typical circumstances. To a bunch accustomed to having net accounts on many computers spread throughout a building, this is just unacceptable.

The answer to this problem can be a fast Ethernet network in-house, equipped with a good quality router-- at least if all the PCs/Macs have Ethernet ports. Though it poses a significant upfront cost, and entails some elbow grease, it goes beyond allowing one ISP account to be accessible to all the computers in the place, and theoretically allows them all to access it simultaneously, and at high speed too.


So that's what we're doing. Fortunately practically every computer in the building has an Ethernet port now-- even my old Quadra 650 (although that one would need a transceiver). Both the iMac and iMac DV have such ports built-in; Roger added one to my new HP PC; I installed one in both the Performa 6400 and Compaq PC.

Besides sharing broadband net access, the net should also be handy for file transfers between machines. Theoretically, anyway.

Our initial plan was this: Link together all the Macs and PCs in a fast Ethernet LAN for sharing of files and a cable modem; put up a firewall to protect the LAN from internet crackers; and salvage the Airport wireless connection between the iMac DV and the PowerBook. And do it all as economically and painlessly as possible.

Alas, this is far from a no-brainer operation. The FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) factor is sky high in the area of fast Ethernet LAN construction these days. I'd bet lots of folks who attempt it end up wasting considerable sums of money and effort before accomplishing the feat-- if they don't first give up in frustration or due to an emptied bank account.

Luckily I had a couple advantages going for me over most folks. One, I helped lots of Mac users connect to the internet (a WAN or wide area network) back in the internet's geeky days. I even created a kit and how-to manual for it. I've also built and configured local area networks before zillions of computer years ago-- albeit they were slow nets, and considerably less sophistocated than a fast Ethernet LAN. My biggest advantage though was Roger-- an ex-Marine network administrator with so much (and such recent!) LAN experience he could likely do the job in his sleep.

Unfortunately, Roger's a busy fellow, not to mention a human being like the rest of us, and I couldn't expect him to come in and figure out what we needed, order the stuff, and then install it for us. He did however install a NIC (Network Interface Card) in a PC for me, as well as offer recommendations for the router and cabling which I used for the core of the job described here, and let me consult him via several emails along the way on the subject as well. He also lent me his crimping tool so I wouldn't have to buy one (they're relatively expensive for anyone who may never need to use them more than once; perhaps $40-$50 or so), and more. All this helped tremendously. But this still left plenty for me and others to do.

Roger's recommendations included:

Item 1: Cables To Go CTG 500Ft Cat5, Solid PVC White Cable, around $60, which supports net speeds up to 100Mbs

Item 2: Linksys Instant Broadband EtherFast Cable/DSL Router with built-in 10/100 four port switch for around $160, which supports up to 253 users. The router shows your LAN to the WAN or internet ISP as just a single IP address, and acts as a firewall to protect your LAN. It is configured through a PC web browser on the LAN.

Roger's expertise is almost solely with PCs. My net must incorporate both PCs and Macs, and so I knew I had to do some research on the web to make sure Roger's recommendations would work well for us. I also had to do considerable shopping to get the best deals I could. As I expected, there were some potential glitches where Macs were concerned. However, from the items I found I came to the conclusion Roger's router recommendation would likely work as well with our Macs as any other router on the market-- plus appeared to be virtually perfect for PCs. I found and saved some documented solutions to various Mac problems relating to the router.

Please refer to User log external reference links to see a list of third-party URLs I came across (or was referred to) in my research (along with a note or two I made to myself among them; note that a few links which appear the same in the list are actually different items which just left the same bookmark title when grabbed).

After considerable study upon the situation, I decided to stick with Roger's recommendations regarding both cable and router. I was still too ignorant regarding cable matters to change that spec. The router didn't offer quite as many client ports as we wanted, but was expandable further via extra hubs/switches. Plus the expansion route seemed the most practical way to go in that regard (as usual we're trying to cruise through this adventure in strict economy-class). Furthermore, the basic four ports on the router would likely serve us well in the short and maybe even intermediate term-- assuming the original plan worked out.

I ordered a NIC for the Performa 6400, got it, installed it. Roger installed one in my new HP PC. The two iMacs already had fast Ethernet ports built-in. The Compaq had a slow port built-in-- I added a fast one.

The router arrived. The cable arrived. We picked up some RJ-45 connectors at RadioShack (what we expected to use plus a few extra). The blister packs said "8-conductor crimp-on modular plugs for stranded cable used with local area networks (LAN systems) and 8-wire phone systems".

The purchases I made included:

The router from Buy.com...........................$150.00, no shipping charges (a $20 rebate was supposed to be available here, but I got pressed for time and missed the deadline to exploit it, darn it).

500 feet of cable from TigerDirect.com.........$71.77 total, including shipping.

The connectors cost about $3.00 for a pack of five. We bought several packs. You should buy a few extra just in case of problems. Especially if you're like me and never crimped this exact sort of thing before.

At this point unrelated matters came up to prevent me doing anything about all this for weeks....I don't like delays like this, especially with electronics, because what if it's dead on arrival? You usually have to return it pretty quickly in such cases.

Many days later...another pal of mine helped me figure out the best place to put the router and run the cables. WebFLUX Central has a basement and a pattern of large pipe holes which once serviced a hot water furnace and radiator network, which have since been removed. It was much easier knocking out a plug or two than drilling through the pristine floor would have been. This allowed us to centrally locate the router in the basement, on a wooden shelf added just for it, in a spot approximately underneath the first step of the stairs which extend (above the basement) from the groundfloor to the second. My friend wired in a new, grounded outlet there just for the router. We added a surge protector too.

This location for the router offers decent physical access to the device in the basement ceiling, allows easy visual inspection of its LED displays, and keeps it up out of harm's way in the area. It also minimizes the overall distance cable must be run anywhere in the building from the router (325 feet or so is roughly the recommended limit per cable length).

Along the basement ceiling we ran four cables from the router to an old radiator pipe hole opening into the main computer room. Three of these cables were for computers, one for the cable modem. We allowed ourselves plenty of slack in the cables, so that they'd reach their intended workstations and still have several extra feet in length besides. It's easier to shorten a cable than to lengthen it, once in place. And WebFLUX Central is not your typical office or school environment, where a given workstation may well reside in its original location until it dies. Here, workstations and other furniture and appliances might change locations fairly often. The extra cable lengths were intended to provide us some flexibility in this area. Of course, if you're reasonably sure that your workstations won't be moving around, you can get by with more precise and shorter cable lengths, which pose benefits of their own, such as less distance for signals to travel, less chance of cable slack being stepped on or otherwise damaged or being a hazard to foot traffic, less expense due to less cable used, etc., etc., etc.

I traced back and marked at both ends the cable meant for the modem-to-router connection. It doesn't hurt to mark the cables at the router end as to which PC or Mac they go to as well, but it's not really necessary, as you can label them later based on the router's lit LEDs when only one particular PC or Mac is running at the time (assuming there's no problems in any of the mediums).

We cut a short length of rubber tubing or hose, then slit it up the side to wrap it around all the cables where they emerge from the hole. Then we pushed the rubber hose down so that it would sit between the cable group and the sides and edges of the hole in the floor through which they passed. This reduces the chance of cable damage due to friction and sharp edges.

Another cable we ran up the basement-side of the stairwell, drilling a hole at top for it to emerge on the second floor. We routed it under the top step, attaching it with cable stays, and into my office through another hole bored through the wall.

Note that if you're not well acquainted with your building and/or carpentry in general, you might want to enlist the help of someone who is for this sort of thing. Or at least buy and use a good and illustrated how-to manual for same. Special tools can be required as well, such as a drill and extra long drill bits, and perhaps a device called a stud finder. These tools can cost a pretty penny in themselves. Especially since anytime you absolutely must buy a handtool you might as well get the best if you can afford it. Why? High quality tools will usually do the job better and easier than lower quality ones, and last you a lot longer too. Bargain basement tools are sometimes worse than no tools at all.

Keep in mind that you don't want to drill through any existing electrical wiring in your building (a live circuit might injure you or even start a fire), and you may wish to avoid drilling through certain structural elements as well, for a variety of reasons. For instance, a hardwood beam in a structure can be nearly as hard to drill through as metal.

Pulling cable can be an exhausting and time consuming job. The cable tends to catch on just about everything, and you cannot allow a sharp kink to develop in the wire, as it can cause breaks or other flaws not necessarily visible to the naked eye, which can cut your net connection or reduce its speed. You need to make sure you and your friend(s) pulling the cable through a building can easily communicate. This allows one to start and stop the motions of the other as necessary. Sometimes a go-between will be necessary to relay messages. Don't consider this communication to be a trivial matter. Military and construction professionals will tell you that sometimes lives can depend on such communications. In the case of LAN construction hopefully no lives are at risk, but you never know what unexpected glitch may appear-- and robust communications can prevent such glitches from becoming dangerous, or costing you extra money in the set up of your network. They can also speed up the work and increase the quality of the end result.

Being unaccustomed to crimping Ethernet cables, I used a couple connectors and very short lengths of cable just for practice. There's two main ways to crimp connectors onto Ethernet cables: straight-through and cross-over. You need to consult a reference chart for this the first dozen or so you do. A handy chart was provided in the router's user manual. In our case all the LAN cables involved in this installation phase would be wired as straight-through. However, cross-over wiring is used for particular purposes, such as described below.

I made something like a ten foot long cross-over cable next, to be used for a direct connection between my iMac and HP PC (and possibly other stations sometimes) for direct file transfers in some instances, independent of the LAN (note that this was more for added experience and remote contingency preparation than anything else; I might rarely or even never use the cable in practice; for Old Computer Geezers like me such habits as contingency prep are hard to break).

There may be some slightly different kinds of connectors available that work more easily than what I had. I found it tough and frustrating to do my first half dozen or so connectors. You have to separate out 8 tiny wires and get them to line up just right an inch up inside an otherwise inaccessible, finely ribbed connector before crimping. This can be hard on Old Computer Geezer eyes like mine. The how-to chart in the manual looked pretty small too.

You also need to preserve the twists in the wires as near as possible to the connector. It's likewise very desirable to strip the outer sheath of the cable as minimally as possible, so that the sheath will actually extend up into the connector, thereby allowing the subsequent crimp to make the sheath accept part of the later stress burden of users connecting and disconnecting or wiggling the connector end.

Alas, I found it impossible to cut sufficiently short lengths of outer sheath so that the sheath would extend up into the connector. I needed the extra length to untwist the strand pairs and array the wires into the proper order for connector entry. Hopefully some winds of electrical tape or some shrink wrap will suffice for the purpose, after the connectors prove themselves function-wise.

I also had some trouble learning how to use the crimper just so, to make sure its blades cut the sheath but not the wires inside. The tool didn't seem well-designed for this purpose, or else there was some trick to it I have yet to learn. Keep in mind I've stripped and crimped my share of wires in my day, from automotive wiring to telephone wiring, which included re-wiring an entire truck from scratch once, and partially re-wiring a couple cars (the average person would likely be amazed at how much wiring there is in an automobile), plus installing most of the wall nodes for a 100+ node phonenet computer network. I've also dealt with some much larger cables related to a power management building in a chemical factory under construction.

I stripped cable sheath and crimped connectors onto the ends of all the cables now distributed about the building. I began in the most comfortable and convenient place first, and finished up the crimping in the basement last. This enabled me to get the most crimping experience (and spend my likely most lengthy crimping times due to inexperience) in comfortable surroundings, while helping me be at my fastest and most experienced in the uncomfortable and dimly lit basement. I also didn't have to consult the wire pattern chart as much in the basement stage, due to the previous practice, which was beneficial because of the extra eyestrain involved in doing so in the basement (the router manual chart is kind of small in some aspects).

One of those cheap clamp-on worklights with an 8 foot or longer power cord comes in very handy for the basement stage.

About this point I ran into another time shortage problem and had to cease work on the project for days-- maybe a week. But that was OK with me, as I expected the next stage to actually be the most difficult: configuring all the PCs/Macs to play nice with the LAN.

When I got back to it, I went by the router quick-install sheet (with the manual as backup), and began inching closer to going live. I obtained some technical info from my cable provider that the router manual recommended for configuration, and plugged in all the PCs/Macs planned for this stage (they were all shut down at the time).

I booted up my HP PC to configure it for the LAN and also set up the router, per instructions (the router sets up via web browser).

Problem: Although I successfully connected to the router over Ethernet, my dialup connection to Earthlink kept popping up asking to connect, now that the browser was open. I had to keep canceling the dialog box inbetween configuration screens for the router. I finally managed to locate and click on Windows' Dial Properties, then Dial-up Networking, and UNcheck a box that said 'connect to the internet as needed'. I clicked apply, then clicked a cancel button to get the dialog out of my face again. No longer did earthlink pop up wanting to dial up every other web page I visited among the router's configuration screens.

Surfing on the HP was great. That PC (and the router) were now configured. Time for more.

I tackled the Macintosh Performa 6400 next (Please click the link to see 6400 config info)

I next went to the iMacDV. (Please click the link to see iMacDV config info)

I decided to tackle the DV's wireless Airport connection to the PowerBook next. After lots of research and troubleshooting it soon became apparent that there would be no easy or convenient way to integrate the Airport configuration into the LAN. It might have been a bit more workable if we had the $300 base station rather than using merely two $100 cards, one in the DV and the other in the PowerBook. But there was no guarantee it would work well even then with the LAN. Because even in the best case scenario we'd have to pretty much change every setting on the whole LAN and all the computer stations to a custom configuration which wasn't really recommended by either the router company or Roger or the cable modem service, to appease AirPort. In other words, the entire LAN and broadband sharing solution would have to be remade just to satisfy the requirements of AirPort-- and from my previous experience with AirPort I had grave doubts AirPort would cooperate even then. From what I've seen of AirPort on the Mac the past year, I wasn't surprised that Apple and Lucent both were having public relations and stock valuation problems during the time I was installing this LAN. Don't get me wrong; I have seen AirPort work briefly. And when it did, it was pretty much a fast, wireless Ethernet network connection, that allowed our PowerBook to wirelessly access files and the internet from the iMacDV. Unfortunately (I'm speaking from memory here), the user had to keep close by a detailed checklist of how to switch between surfing the net and sharing files via AirPort-- it was too complex to remember how without practicing regularly for at least a week or two. Plus the remote DV had to be on for the thing to work. And somehow the config got screwed up anyhow to where even the checklist didn't help get it working again-- and it was a bear to install in the first place, software-wise.

It dawned on me it would be easier to re-install the whole Mac OS on the DV than reconfigure it between being a normal LAN client and being an AirPort server for the PowerBook.

Basically, AirPort is cool technology that simply isn't ready for average consumer adoption yet. Specifically, it has quite a few software interface, installation, configuration, and flexibility issues that must be addressed to make it a decent mainstream product-- at least in my opinion.

AirPort was forcing me to consider a new set of LAN possibilities. I could re-route the LAN cable meant for the Compaq PC to an adjoining room where the PowerBook usually resided. Or we could try a $300 AirPort base station (yeah, right). Or we could try finding a software utility that could automatically with one click perform a massive network re-configuration on the iMacDV when required, to switch it from being an AirPort server for the PowerBook to being a normal client on the LAN, and back again.

I searched some for such a utility on the net. But only half-heartedly. Because I have little faith in such gadgets. It's hard enough to keep a Mac running these days just using plain vanilla Apple software; adding stuff from third parties usually makes things worse rather than better. I didn't find anything that looked promising for the task. My lack of faith in AirPort plus our small budget pretty much ruled out buying a base station. Re-purposing the Compaq's cable looked to be the ticket, until the LAN could be expanded.

Folks, finding these bigger-than-expected problems with AirPort and the LAN was not something I wanted. Keep in mind that such an event really messed with my original LAN plan, which counted on getting AirPort to work with the network. For example, I might have bought a router with more ports on it if I'd known AirPort was going to give me such problems.

Well well well. Time to regroup. I now turned my attention back to the 6400's LAN speed problem.

Whew! Glad all that's done!

Well, this marks the 'end of the beginning' of the SOHO LAN. I still have much to do, such as configuring email, maybe setting up a backup dial-up account, and enabling file sharing between the PCs and between them and the Macs. I may need to expand the net with a hub or switch soon too-- as at this point my personal iMac and the Compaq 5151 PC remain off-line. I also have the extra generic Windows95 PC equipped with a fast net card too, which we may put to some purpose online.

But for the moment we have a shared broadband web connection of up to 250 k or so among four computers (one PC and three Macs) as well as robust file sharing among the Mac complement.

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