May, 2002

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Still alive

Tuesday, May 28th, 2002

Home and work life have been keeping me supremely busy these past couple weeks. At home, I’m just about finished unpacking. The last pieces of furniture for my living room (namely the sofa set) should be delivered this week. I’ve tentatively set a date for my housewarming party (Saturday, June 8), now “all” I have to do is tidy up, put everything in its place, and decorate, roughly in that order.

Tech status: ADSL service has been superb so far; did a 1.6GB download (from work) of the new Microsoft Visual Studio .NET software development tools yesterday and the connection didn’t skip a beat. (It truly boggles the mind how a piece of software can take 2GB to install; I’ve not yet taken the time to find out…) My 1100VA UPS one died yesterday so I replaced it with a 1250VA unit.

Last but definitely not least, my latest bi-annual “Linux flirtation”. I installed a new hard drive on my server and along with it, Mandrake Linux 8.2. Spent some time this weekend setting up a VNC server so I could use the machine from a remote graphics terminal session on my Windows XP workstation—the integrated Trident CyberBlade graphics chip on my server has an extremely poor DAC that yields an unusably fuzzy display. With the display problem out of the way, I’m going through IBM’s Samba tutorial to (hopefully) configure the Linux machine as a domain controller for my network.

I kid not when I say “bi-annual Linux flirtation”. Roughly every two years since 1996 or so, I install Linux on one of my machines hoping to do something useful with it, only to ultimately fail and decide that Linux isn’t ready for me (or vice-versa) yet. I’m hoping to have better luck this time around; Linux is definitely slicker and easier to set up than ever before, but one still can’t escape mucking about configuration files with a text editor, so it’s still not idiot-proof. Whether or not it will stand up to this idiot this time around, remains to be seen…

Online again at last

Wednesday, May 15th, 2002

Plugged in the ADSL modem last night, and was somewhat surprised this morning to find the connection up and running, switched on right on time. Bandwidth tests at DSLReports.com show the connection humming along at a little bit over 1.3 megabits per second (downstream). With regards to the quality of service, time will tell, but for now, DSLExtreme gets a thumbs-up from me…

Shakin’

Monday, May 13th, 2002

I was in the office when we had the first significant earthquake at our new location: 5.2 magnitude earthquake. Our building seems to have performed well, with just a small amount of low-frequency shaking, and a couple small things falling off people’s shelves. It does serve as a reminder to me to get something to strap my bookcase to the wall at home, though.

Preliminary information is available from the US Geological Survey, as well as California’s Emergency Digital Information Service.

Progress (or something like it)

Sunday, May 12th, 2002

Starting to get settled in to the new place:

  • Got a digital cable box (with analog channels only) that allows my TiVo to work. This was an ordeal in itself as first AT&T told me (on Tuesday) I could pick up and install the box myself, only to tell me that I couldn’t and that they didn’t even have the box at that location after I drove half an hour to their office in south San Jose. Have I mentioned how much I despise AT&T cable/broadband? Many times now, I think.
  • DSL service should be hooked up by Wednesday or so. Given my experience with DSL Extreme‘s support service so far, I’m expecting good things from this ISP.
  • Mostly unpacked, minus 4-5 boxes still in the living room (books, CDs, DVDs). Need a new bookcase in the living room as I put the old one in the guest bedroom/home office; “technical” (computer books and manuals, textbooks, etc.) and “recreational” books will go in separate bookcases. Also looking for a new CD storage rack of some sort, as the old one (which will now store only DVDs) was seriously overflowing.
  • With most boxes cleared out of the living/dining room area, my dining room table is finally in place (as opposed to leaning against the wall). With the decreasing clutter, my living room seems increasingly bare of furniture… Need to make a trek to Ikea soon…
  • One computer unpacked and connected, two more to go… I’m really waiting to get DSL up and running so I can finalize my network topology. Not to mention there doesn’t seem too much of a point to setting up the computers, without any Internet access.
  • I’m starting to get the X10 controllers installed. The first thing I wired in was my bedroom lighting, as I had grown so used to controlling it via remote control while in bed.

Phone support hell

Friday, May 3rd, 2002

Been spending the last two hours trying to figure out what kind of cable set-top box I need to connect the dual-cable. Speaking with a friend who lives nearby, and digging through the AT&T Cable website, I know such a box exists, but I’ve been having a heck of a time trying to find out exactly what it is, where/from whom I can get one, etc.

For starters, I defy anyone to find a phone number at which the AT&T Cable people can be reached, on their website. Finding a number to call is half the battle, it seems. I finally found a number one a page connected to their broadband Internet service, which re-directed my call to a number for their cable service technical support, which put me on hold, and dropped the connection. I called in again, got successively more precise answers as I my call was escalated up three (!) levels, until I reached someone who eventually determined that I needed to call a different support number (because I was a bulk system customer rather than a normal residential customer), attempted to transfer me there, which left me on silent hold for ten minutes before I hung up… And when I attempted to call that number directly, all I got was a message telling me to call back during business hours… which I might have been able to do had I not spent the whole previous hour trying to find that number in the first place!

Had I any hair, I’m sure I would have torn it out by now in sheer frustration. God, I hate AT&T.

Living in the Dark Ages

Friday, May 3rd, 2002

Silicon Valley has a surprisingly inconsistent—generally piss-poor—communications infrastructure. Case and point: the area I’m living in now does not have access to either cable modem or digital cable services. Furthermore, the television cable signal is distributed over two separate cables; apparently people have to use an A/B switch to access all channels. This is a total non-starter for my TiVo box, which doesn’t handle this kind of arcane, prehistoric system.

I need to get me a compass, so that I can check in vain hope that I might be able to point an antenna at the one of the DirectTV or Dish Network satellites. (My apartment is on the north side of the building, so the odds are pretty stacked against me.)

As for Internet access, I’ve decided to go with DSL Extreme following recommendations on DSLReports.com, which should be able to hook me up on a 1.5Mbps ADSL line. Haven’t heard back from them after two days, though. You’d think with DSL service providers dropping like flies, the ones that are left would be eager to have your business. But maybe their lackadaisical attitude is what’s killing them in the first place.

Sheer, utter, total incompetence, Part II

Friday, May 3rd, 2002

After ordering DSL from Pacific Bell, and finding out that (a) they use PPPoE and (b) that there are plenty of other DSL providers out there who could provide me with ATM and a static IP address, I called up PacBell and immediately cancelled my order. Okay, no problem, they said.

Turns out they went ahead and put the order through anyway. Consequently, I had to phone them up and cancel the order, then wait until the line is disconnected again before DSL Extreme can hook me up again. (The irony is that DSL Extreme likely hooks up through PacBell… Ah, DSL Hell.)

Out of the old, in to the new

Thursday, May 2nd, 2002

This morning I turned in the keys to my old apartment, after spending some hours of the past few days moving the last few things out (my 25-gallon aquarium being the biggest challenge), cleaning up, and un-doing some of the modifications I’d made (removing all the X10 controllers, plastering the cable routing holes I’d drilled, etc. When I did the walk-through with the apartment manager she seemed quite impressed with all the cleaning I’d done; I’m guessing many tenants don’t even bother. It remains to be seen how much of my $600 deposit I’ll get back; from what I’ve heard of others’ experience, I’m not that optimistic.

Anyway, at least that’s over and done with, and now I can fully devote myself to moving in to the new place: unpacking, placing furniture, decorating, and of course, setting up my computers, electronics and networks. I’m still trying to figure out the details of my network topology: where to put my server, gateway, hub, wireless antenna, etc. My new place is laid out roughly like this:

[apartment floorplan]

The single door leading into the master bedroom, with the attached bathroom and walk-in closet, creates a feeling of an “inner sanctum” within the apartment. One of the nice things about the new place is that it’s heated electrically with separate thermostats in each room, so I can keep my bedroom warm and cozy while saving power in the rest of the apartment.