Back in the glory days of 2000, you could tell a geek house because of the blue Cat-5 cables strung everywhere. We sure had them. In 2001 when I lived in a 5 geek household I think one was the best part of 30 metres long. Andrew has had a trusty Netgear DS108 hub since about two days after I added my computer to his and Tim’s and the house network had to grow beyond crossover. It’s been driving our network ever since, even though Andrew has been looking at it and willing it to turn into a switch about once every three months for all that time.
Anyway, these days the revolution is wireless, and that’s for values of ‘these days’ that covers about three years. Andrew and I are tragically slow to spend money on gadgets, oddly. We got wireless enabled laptops in 2004 and they were even supported by our operating system before the year was out. But blue cables have remained, until today.
Why today? Well, that’s because of another, older revolution. For the last month and a half, my parents have had broadband. (Actually, this is a meaner feat than it sounds; they live about 10km out of town in a rural area. I didn’t even know that Telstra did ADSL for people like that until my father emailed me from his new email address.) This means that it’s somewhat plausible that we can go out there for a few days and work from there, which is certainly nicer than spending five hours on a bus on Saturday, spending fifteen hours there, and spending five hours on a bus back. But that means being able to hook nicely into their ‘net setup. And that means wireless.
So we shopped around purely on a price basis and ended up getting a Netgear WGR614 wireless router, with bonus points for the salesman actually being quite nice and chatting to us about our setup and warning us that if we were to accidentally mention to our ISP’s tech support that we used wireless they’d probably hang up. (That’s ok, Andrew told him, we use Linux. They can’t hang up twice in one phone call.)
And then of course there were fun and games configuring the thing. It wants to be the kitchen sink: a router with an in-built DHCP server. We have a large and fairly expensive router and DHCP server already as it happens, and for bonus points it has an 80GB hard-drive and acts as my primary mail server. And I know how to set it up. So I needed to get into the wireless router and hit the magic
don’t be clever button. I was expecting this to be rather like our ADSL modem configuration: that is, you really do log in and say
please be a dumb bridge, no routing, yes, I’m looking at you, stop that routing (so to speak). Not so easy with the wireless router. It really wants to be the kitchen sink.
The trouble with stuff like this is usually knowing what to search for. I was searching for
netgear wireless modem bridging initially, which was just stupid, I kept getting product reviews. (It turns out the search term would be
access point, by the way, access point being the wireless jargon for not being a clever clogs.) And, notably, for once I was actually saved by a natural language query interface! I worked on natural language question answering for a year without ever believing that anyone had a working one. (To be fair, we were trying to return short pithy answers, not whole documents.) I put
How do I put wgr614 in bridge mode? into the the Netgear knowledge base search box and actually got something useful back.
And then we spent an extra hour fiddling around because I stupidly didn’t pay attention to the bit where you
change the IP address of the wireless router/access point to one that fits your network manually rather than expecting your main DHCP server to do it. (Also, for the benefit of anyone wading through this crap trying to actually configure one of these things, change the IP address under
LAN IP Setup, don’t bother about the
Internet IP Address under
Basic Settings because that’s to do with the port that you’re not going to use. And for the benefit of confused people thinking about bringing wireless into your lives and wondering what the hell I’m going on about, don’t worry, and follow the install directions and let it work everything out automatically; if you don’t have a machine in your house that you affectionately know as
my server you don’t need to go through this, lucky you.)