Wednesday, October 26, 2005

And All Just So I Can Have A More Active 'Social' Life

Ten years ago, a friend gave me his leftover Mac SE with external monitor and hard disk and modem when I left the house he had so graciously opened to me while I found a place of my own. I got an Unlimited Local Calling Plan (Unlimited! Just like free refills! Would these wonders of the American Way of Consuming ever cease?) and for the first time this Usenet addict could read Usenet at home by dialing in to his provider in Cambridge, SPDCC. I knew the owner.

Then Dean came over and we moved in together and we bought this custom built tricked out PC. It's Intel chip ran over 200MHz, and we splurged on 128Mb of memory and Windows NT 4.0. I still used dial up to be on Usenet, IRC, and Telnet, and I still knew the owner of my dial up.

Then we bought a condo and we moved and we got DSL. Over the years the service was great, but dealing with Verizon was a nightmare. Still on the big computer, which our house guest exercised at night. I think he got the most keyboard time on it.

Then I started to work for Nokia and bought my Toshiba Libretto 110CT to take to work, with a dreadful CDPD card (11Kbps, effectively, bursty, lossy). I wanted wireless surfing at home, so I scored this set of wireless PCMCIA cards for 2Mbps wireless, bought a PCI-to-PCMCIA card so I could shove one of them into the big box that was on DSL, downloaded a program that made Windows 2000 (Windows 2000! It sucked but it rocked after NT 4.0) share the super fast DSL, and now I could surf in the living room. Somewhere in the comingt years I dropped the Libretto and then redecorated it.

Then I realized we were a magnet for intrusions, or soon would be, and I scored off eBay -- I could now do eBay! And get bargains! -- an IBM Butterfly because it was cute with its folding keyboard, and I proceeded to put OpenBSD on it and configure firewall rules. This took 4 solid weeks of me sitting at a desk in the evenings trying to get it to work, mostly because until then I had only been a UNIX user and had no idea what was involved in being a super-user. I got all impressed by terms like hardening and rule-chains and got lost in contradicting HOW-TOs that weren't, because OpenBSD people were supposed to already know OpenBSD. This is where I learned JWZ's lesson the hard way, and that it applies to not just Linux: All open-source and free software is free if your time has no value. But by the end I understood firewalls a lot better and how NAT worked and the house was safe.

Then I bough a set of proper 802.11b cards, and suddenly my laptop, and Dean's laptop, and the big box were all wireless. And so fast -- we could saturate the DSL! The house guest still logged the most keyboard time, usually when Australians were awake. I still have an IRC acquaintance in Canberra from that.

Then I got tired of being a sysadm for the firewall and I bought, for a hundred bucks or so, an Linksys ethernet router with a built-in firewall. I knew what smurf-attacks and Stateful Packet Inspection were, so I could find a tiny consumer-electronics-like box that didn't say on the side that its apex of security was how it implemented NAT. I also scored, off eBay, a wireless access point for 68 bucks -- an eBay bargain! -- while Apple was still selling Airports for 200 or so and Nokia's access point was projected to cost a 1000 bucks, right before they woke up to Apple having changed the rules of the game and canning the whole division. My access point had no brand, came from Taiwan, needed to be configured with an arcane program I was always losing the disk of, but was tiny and just worked. Exit butterfly, and everyone including the TiVo had 802.11 and there were extra network jacks for when the page that purrs was still being served from our bedroom closet. Dean can now do webcam shows from all over the house, like when he used to fold laundry. By now, the indestructable Butterfly had a completely busted hinge from being half-open all the time.

Then we got Comcast digital broadband, and we ditched the house guest and Verizon DSL. One could say telephony was out in our household. Now I have a phone plan that is unlimited everything, not just local, and I've been in the US long enough to not be impressed. And you only get free refills on sodas, which I no longer drink anyway because they either made me fat or tasted like aspartame, so who wants unlimited more of that? I repurposed a broken Sony laptop to run Fedora Core 2 -- you install that on a laptop with a broken screen -- and realized I still know crap all about how to maintain a UNIX box properly, but the installers are way prettier. This box ran an internal caching DNS and DHCP services so as to first of all deal with the fact that Comcast's shiny new digital cable infrastructure had DNS servers that fell over every 5 minutes, and so that the known machines in the house always got the same IP address and I could keep track where everything was. This install took a week or three as well.

Yesterday I got a box from Netgear. It has even faster wireless (B and G), an advanced firewall with the latest SPI rules, a built in DHCP server that also allows me to set fixed addresses for my known boxes, and does almost everything my Linksys box, my Taiwanese no-name access point, and my Sony VAIO DHCP server did, with a single interface that needs no wizards or crap installed. It doesn't cache DNS look-ups, I think, but Comcast has their act together now, so I do not need it. Time to set up, including shiny new 128bit WEP keys: one hour and a half because I was trying every options. Cost: 34 dollars, free Super Saver Shipping.