Rupert Goodwins' Diary

A router's tea addiction means it's time to upgrade the domestic LAN. It all seems too easy, until...

An unorthodox diary this week, due mostly to me not being around for most of it. So take it as read that all the events below happened, just not necessarily in a stately order of days.

Before Christmas, an unfortunate accident with a cup of tea and someone's foot led to a sick router at home. The drenched device in question, a Vigor 2200E, has given many years of perfect service and I tried quite hard to revive it — including putting the bare board under the shower. Although it came back from the dead, it wasn't quite the same — some ports wouldn't switch to 100Mbps, and none would talk to my otherwise blameless Dell laptop. As my broadband is now up to 10Mbps and I'd been using an ancient 3Com wireless gateway that did 802.11b only, it was new router time.

There are two ways to purchase technology when one is deep in the heart of the IT knowledge nexus. Option 1: Go online, research the best buy making sure you get the most flexible and powerful devices from the most respected suppliers, phoning up engineers and hassling PRs, putting the word out that you're waiting to pounce. Option 2: check what the local PC World's got on offer and pop in on your way home.

Yeah. I did. Apologies. I even had to show the shop assistant where the darn things were – "Sorry, boss, we're out of stock. We'll have some in tomorrow." "Ah. And those boxes piled by that pillar would be?" "Oh yeah!" — and I found it particularly easy to ignore the piles of USB thumbdrives stacked high and twice natural price at the checkout. But sixty quid got me a brand new Linksys WRT54GS (no, not even the Linux version) and a USB 802.11g adaptor, all of which were up and running after one cup of coffee.

It all worked so well I was even tempted to dig up an old Proxim card and stuff it in the Ubuntu laptop, which promptly installed itself faster than I could google to find out what to do next. What's gone wrong with naff usability? In a fit of madness, I've ripped out all the Ethernet cat 5 from the flat, stuffed the cable modem and router in the cupboard and am enjoying an entirely wire-free life. As soon as I need to move a reasonable amount of data around, of course, those cables will come back, but for now I'm revelling in the experience.

I come from a land where the motto "Any job involving RS232 takes a day" was universally admitted to be if anything an understatement, so this sort of thing still impresses me. It was too good to be true… and you know what that means.

It was too good to last. Shortly after I'd created my Hertzian heaven, the Dell laptop started to misbehave. It kept dropping the connection to the router, then pretending that it couldn't see anything but the wireless network from the Latin Americans' gaff upstairs (the one with the Portuguese SSID that translates as 'Testicles To The World', as far as I can make out). If I turned the laptop's wireless off and on again, back came the router at full strength. Hm. Nothing up with the router, which was happy to talk to the other two computers all day. Centrino laptop, so that'll be an Intel 2200BG adaptor — with a year old driver. Spidey sense tingles. Check Dell's site, but that's still got the same driver. Darn. On the other hand, it's not as if Dell will have re-engineered the standard driver package, so let's have a shufti at Intel. Aha! A new driver, just weeks old.

Result: a rock-solid network connection. Looking around after the event, it turns out that lots and lots and lots of people have had the same problem — with some complaining that whenever Intel produces a patch for one particular version of their adaptor (variants of which are legion, and not always clearly distinguishable), it cascades problems onto others. Whether that's true or not — a pal has had exactly the same experience as me, with the latest patch fixing the problem — it's definitely minus marks to Dell for not keeping up with the problem.

However, driver angst is about to get a lot worse. Microsoft has said that 64-bit Vista — and future versions — will require all kernel-level drivers to be signed, or they won't run.

Signing has never worked well. If you keep a tight control on it, you introduce far too much inflexibility and cost for an industry which relies on an absence of either to work effectively. And if you relax controls, then signing becomes a trivial annoyance with little power to prevent abuse. The power to sign comes at a cost of around $500, so you can expect somewhat less than five hundred bucks' worth of oversight.

The one thing that it does do is give Microsoft the power to turn things off by getting the root authority — Verisign — to revoke a certificate or class of certificates. This is uppermost in Microsoft's mind: as well as kernel-level drivers, all streaming media drivers have to be signed too: no prizes for guessing why Microsoft would want to be able to turn off any media capabilities it didn't approve of. As always, this move is presented as a way to improve security and reliability for users: as always, the real motivation appears to improve security and reliability for content providers at the expense of user choice.

Coincidence of the week: Google caving in to the Chinese censors at the same time as Hong Kong announces that CB will be legal on the island. It took about three years to get CB legal in the UK, mostly because the Home Office was scared that people would use it to talk to each other. Opinions vary whether the Great Firewall of China is the fingers of authoritarian ruthlessness closing on the windpipe of freedom, an irrelevance to a people who just want to make more money and couldn't care less about such details, or about as useful at keeping naughtiness out as the real Great Wall was against the Mongols. Breaker break.

Argument of the week, from a friend in Israel: "The Iranian government has said it wants to wipe us off the face of the planet.. Look what happened last time someone said that. You want us to wait for this lot to get nukes?". Well, since you put it like that...

Pastime of the week: looking up rude words in

Signoff of the week: tata for now.


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