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.comment: Going Broadband With a Cable Modem - page 2

Bye-bye Telco

  • September 27, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

I had thought, and was wrong in thinking, that installing the cable modem itself would involve nothing more than putting a splitter on the cable that already came into my office. It turned out that there was too much loss from the splits that go off into the rest of the house, so new coax would have to be strung. The cable enters one end of the house; my office is at the other end. I figured it would be a headache, and was wrong about that, too.

The cable guy was a real pro. He phoned the morning of my appointment (it had been scheduled to be installed between 3 and 5 p.m.) and asked if I'd mind his showing up early. He got here at 9:30 a.m. and was gone, coaxial cable installed and cable modem apparently delivering a signal, a little more than an hour later.

I say apparently delivering a signal because Charter Pipeline will not touch a Linux machine, no way, no how. My initial thought was that this probably had something to do with the fact that Paul Allen, the manly one of the two original Microsoft founders and the second richest man in the world, owns a big piece of the cable company. So when the cable guy departed, he had demonstrated the existence of the signal by attaching a gadget apparently designed for the purpose to the modem and saying the readings illustrated a good, strong signal.

Getting the thing to work with my machine was little short of an ordeal, made so by the fact that distributions have forked badly in their handling of things like network cards and hubs. Everybody has some method of configuring these things and nobody bothers to explain what configuration files are involved or the syntax employed. Sadly, it seems as if the files have been placed for the convenience of the tool. The effect is that you might know how to do networking in Debian, but that won't help you with Red Hat, and knowledge of Red Hat won't help you with Caldera. (I realize that this has become a continuing gripe of mine, but I'll use this example to say it again: Unless the distributions can come to an agreement on these things, Linux will fragment into insignificance.)

Beating It Into Submission

A few years ago, after having used Linux for about a month, I published on a Linux mailing list what I called "The Linux Nine-Hour Rule." It specified that getting anything to work for the first time in Linux took nine hours. After that, it worked reliably and quickly, but setting it up was a nine-hour project, no matter what it was.

This changed with the release of Caldera Open Linux 2.2, which was the first distribution that had a number of features, that actually worked, designed to make life easier for the user. My nine-hour rule was repealed, replaced by the "I Dunno; I Just Did Some Stuff and Then It Worked Rule."

Both rules were invoked before the cable modem was working on my machine.

Some--much--of this is my fault. You could fit what I know about networking Linux into a matchbox with room left over for the matches. I was and am running a development kernel, 2.4.0-test8. I'm running a beta version of KDE. I'm running a beta video driver module (which is, by the way, pretty crappy--back to work, Matrox!) and all sorts of other developmental stuff. Then again, if you look at version numbers you'll discover that a lot of what you're running hasn't reached 1.0 yet, either.

I have a Linux guru, the eternally patient Bob Bernstein who, it happens, has a working cable modem. We spent hours on the phone in an attempt for me to learn enough to make it all work, and when that failed an attempt for me to accurately type things into a console window. We tried a world of things--Bob knows Debian, and he knows Red Hat, but he hasn't networked Caldera machines, and I'm running Caldera eDesktop 2.4 because I like the fact that it manages tremendous stability without a Luddite prejudice against new things. And for the reason cited above, this created a problem, because distributions vary so widely. But in due course--after about nine hours--the connection was working. How? I dunno; we just did some stuff and then it worked.

Well, sort of. I could get to the hub, and to the gateway/firewall thing, but not to the modem, whose LED on the DI-701 I now noticed was not lit. D-Link is in California, so I was able to get a call in to technical support in the minutes before their 6 p.m. Pacific closing time. It took the tech support guy less than 30 seconds to diagnose the problem: Some cable modems do not need a crossover cable to connect to the gateway/firewall, and I apparently had one of those, which I'd connected with the crossover cable provided by D-Link. Fortunately, because I already have way, way too much wire tangled up under my desk, I'd gone to one of those wonderful little hole-in-the-wall computer shops (how awful it will be when those all disappear!) and had a couple of foot-long straight Cat 5 cables and a couple of crossovers of the same length made up. I replaced the crossover cable with a straight one, and the Internet LED glowed.

But still, I couldn't ping beyond the firewall. I phoned Bob again to whine some more. While we were on the phone, I happened to click on Netscape and punched up one of my bookmarks and--WHAM!--it was there, so quickly that I thought something had happened to the warning box telling me that it was loading the page from cache. But no, it was the real thing. (Charter tech support, once I'd gotten to someone who showed evidence of having actually seen at least one computer, at least once, possibly while it was turned on, said later that one can neither ping nor be pinged on their system, which I kind of doubt, but maybe he was right.)

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