We're coming off 72 hours of being off the Net at home. This disconnectedness diary is better than other bloggers' home-tech laments, because it includes a genuine earthquake preparedness safety tip.

Back in 1998, I was one of the first dozen people in Vancouver to get ADSL - the modem was a clunky affair the size of a small laptop from Amati (since bought by TI); it ran without a glitch for five happy years. But the phone company was re-engineering the network, so we got a teeny new little Linksys DSL, and instructions to stand by for changeover details. Then they turned the service off without warning last Thursday.

The ISP's tech-support people got to know us by our first names, and the lights on the DSL modem finally came on Saturday. Of course, it didn't work, since it requires PPPoE, blecch. As of 5PM Sunday, we were back on the air, and I'll spare you the blow-by-blow, but here are some take-aways:

Buy a Hand-Cranked Radio · As I've written before, our house contains no devices for receiving television broadcasts. When I got up this morning, I realized there was no Sunday paper, no Internet, and no news over the FM tuner attached to the big music system. Fortunately, we have a hand-cranked/solar-powered radio waiting for use after the Big One hits Vancouver.

It turns out that not much had happened, but I felt more comfortable for knowing that. These things are pretty cheap and pretty handy, and anyone who lives on the West Coast but doesn't have one should seriously consider getting one.

Look At the Lights · When you're on your hands and knees amid a tangle of wires trying to get an Ethernet up and running, it's wise to glance at the little circuit-active lights on the network cards. If they don't light up, maybe you don't need an ordinary Cat5 cable, you need a crossover "null modem" style cable. (Why is this ever a good idea? I'm old enough to remember what “DCE” and “DTE” stand for, and I thought we were past all that.)

Or maybe the cable's just borked. In any case, you're going to have to make that light come on before you're going to get any useful work done.

Read the Damn Error Messages · We had employed a competent Linux hack to help get this sucker going when it became apparent that we'd need PPPoE and I only vaguely understood what the letters stood for. He laboured mightily for hours, misdirected by the instructions from the morons at the ISP, and eventually threw up his hands in despair, saying he was out of ideas.

After he'd gone, I went through /var/log/syslog and the plog output with a gimlet eye, and what do you know, there were perfectly sensible error messages lurking there about missing pieces not compiled into the kernel.

In the subsequent two hours he got four phone calls from me to help me through the rest of the work, but I didn't feel too sorry about that.

PPPoE Is Too Much Work · If you need to get PPPoE going under Linux, you'll need to go through the documentation in extreme detail. On Debian, that would be in /usr/share/doc/pppoe/README.Debian.gz. It has what you need to know.

I note that in the Mac OS X Internet config, there's a busy screen where you type in all the details for running PPPoE; I bet if I'd plugged the Mac into the DSL modem, it all would have just more or less worked. This is how Linux should be too.

You Too Can Rebuild Your Linux Kernel (sigh) · Of course, in the interests of having a lean, mean, stripped-down OS in our gateway machine, we'd left PPP out of the build, so there were two rebuilds before we were done to pull in in the missing pieces; one I had to pull together myself after the expert had left.

Wow, it's getting pretty easy these days what with make menuconfig and so on. I bet I haven't compiled an operating system in a decade or two.

One is left to wonder whether it might be better to slap in one of those all-in-one router/firewall/PPPoE boxes you can buy precisely for people like us who want to run a home network behind a DSL or cable box.

Our Linux box is a bit more flexible and awfully secure and also does a little low-grade web serving and lets us ssh from far away when necessary - but I bet you never have to rebuild the kernel on the all-in-one boxes.

Watch Out for that Airport · After the dust had settled, everything was fine, except for I couldn't talk to anything with the Airport-connected Mac. Some poking around revealed that this sucker is shipped to by default be a DHCP server, so the Mac was getting some loony IP address in the wrong subnet from the Airport, as opposed to something sensible from the Linux box; it had only ever worked before by some weird accident.

So if you're running an Airport in an ancillary rather than a center-of-everything role, you want to get into the configurator and turn off the DHCP.

DSL Futures · Hmm, replacing a big breadbox-sized modem with a little deck-of-cards sized one... I've seen this movie before, where was it? Oh yes, that would be 1984, when I replaced my big 1200-baud modem with heat fins (!) with a cute little model one-fifth the size.

If the trend works out the same way, a DSL modem will in due course become a one-chip wonder sitting behind that RJ-11 port on the side of whatever you carry around, and every phone jack will become, in principle, a broadband port. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Over and Out · What with Internet deprivation and the kid having a bad-toddler day, the morale around the house was falling to dangerously low levels, and some snarling was observed. Now we're back on the air, and the state of the world is generally better.

Except for, we went out for sushi at the excellent local joint and the service was (untypically) terrible. And, the kid's still cranky.

So a good fast Internet connection is not, after all, a cure-all for life's problems. But it's awfully nice to have.


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April 06, 2003
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