Originally Published: Saturday, 26 February 2000 Author: Thomas B. Wilson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Next New Newbie

Last week, I talked about my Birth as a Newbie and my efforts to install Linux. I was going to install PhatLinux from Windows, but I had a change of heart this week. I couldn't resist the temptation to connect my second hard drive with Mandrake 6.0 already installed. The new plan is to have a dedicated Windows hard drive and a dedicated Linux hard drive.

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Last week, I talked about my Birth as a Newbie and my efforts to install Linux. I was going to install PhatLinux from Windows, but I had a change of heart this week. I couldn't resist the temptation to connect my second hard drive with Mandrake 6.0 already installed. The new plan is to have a dedicated Windows hard drive and a dedicated Linux hard drive.

I turn on the computer with a mixture of fatalism and false hope. I know a good windmill chase when I start one. The monitor blinks, windows pop, cosmos collide, and a calm settles on my screen. The K Desktop Environment box appears. The cursor blinks and beckons. It wants me to identify myself. Uh oh. The tech guy from the local computer store forgot to tell me the login name and password.

It's time for problem solving skills. I pause and consider taking up smoking again. I reach for a bottle of aspirin instead. I sit down and call the computer store. They're out of business and I'm out of luck. I look in the manual, but there is no number for technical support. Of course, I could read the manual, but that would violate every core principle that I hold dear to my heart.

Fatalism clicks into overdrive. I never liked this hard drive anyway. It is way too loud and has only 3 gigs on it. My new hard drive has 15 gigabytes, and is fast and quiet. Screw it, I'm just going to install PhatLinux on my new hard drive and hope for the best. So, I go to PhatLinux.com, and follow the links to the download page. The program is 190 mbs. And I need to download something called ArjFolder to compile all the files after the download. I run a quick search and ironically Arjfolder can not be found on the site. No problem, I'll deal with that later. Let's just download the program and get this party started.

I'm staring at the rate of transfer of files. I do some quick math and realize that my 56k modem will need 12 hours to download 190 MB of files. I reach for the cigarettes, and turn up the Macy Gray CD. Macy croons, "I believe that fate has brought us here and we should be together babe, but we're not." Is she talking about me and PhatLinux? Shake it off. Go to Plan C.

My contingency plan, unfortunately, ended at plan B. New frontiers await. I hesitate and consider looping back to Plan A. Nah, new frontiers await. In the meantime, my mind feels like it is experiencing a fatal error.

In a moment of inspiration, I repel my natural instincts and pull out the user manual to Mandrake 6.0. I find the web page address and follow the link to the telephone number for technical support at Linuxcare. Amazingly, I get a tech guy quickly. Easily enough, I discover that I can change the password for the root user. It's looking good, the program boots up, and I'm ready to go online. Let's light this candle. Nothing happens. Undaunted, I call my tech buddie back. Linux doesn't support Winmodems. Perfect. Now what?

I have a Motorola ModemSurfr 56. I call Motorola tech support. I tell the tech guy that I want a Linux and Windows compatible modem. Motorola can't help, but he recommends Hayes. I tell him that a friend recommended US Robotics. He laughs and tells me that Motorola and US Robotics are more or less proprietary modems, but Hayes is basically universal. The search continues.

I'm feeling blue. I don't want to buy another modem. I'm sick of tech support, pre-sales support, post-sales support, web pages with no answers, and schlepping to computer stores stocked with idiots enjoying the fruits of high demand for low brow labor. Now that I think about it, that job description could be my user profile.

Sometimes the best solution is to turn off the computer, walk away, and watch the Sopranos. It seems like I'm in some sort of Linux boot camp. I contemplate to exhaustion, sleep a few hours, then resume the ritual. There are so many possibilities and yet so few options for someone flirting with attention deficit disorder. I'm inside the looking glass, staring chaos theory blind.

Hah! I check out Shopper.com and follow the Linux links. I am led to The Linux Store in Arizona. I talk with Paul and he is very helpful. We find a Win/Lin compatible modem, a 3Com model #5687. I could have had a Connexant modem for $44.95, but the uncertainty with compatibility was daunting. 3com is double the price, $99, but I am assured that it is "bullet proof." My time is worth the extra money. I place the order and serenely await satisfaction guaranteed.

The modem dutifully arrives the next day, and I break the seal of approval. I insert the modem and begin a two day ping pong match. The modem works on the Windows hard drive. It doesn't on the Linux drive. To compound matters, the Windows hard drive doesn't recognize the Linux hard drive. So, I alternately switch cables into hard drives, power up, go online, power down, power up, power down, power up, go online, power down. I ping and pong, morning, noon, and night.

I call Linuxcare again. They inform me that technically I am not covered by telephone support (I will hear this line from various vendors for the next day). Nonetheless, they are cool about it and help anyway. By the way, the trick is to call in the middle of the night when they are bored and more apt to help. Unfortunately, insomnia is essential in carrying out this plan of attack. Unfortunately, I am skilled in this disorder. And ultimately, we can't determine the problem.

I call 3Com the following morning. Surely, they must know how to configure their own modems with Linux. But, they don't provide telephone tech support for Linux either, big surprise. But, again, they too are cool about it and help anyway. And they are a big help. We get the modem to work under Windows and almost under Linux. It responds to modem queries now. When I try to connect though, I get an error message, "auth_reason=19^j". I can smell victory, but I'm only tasting defeat.

So, that's where I am at this week. I've got some emails into Linuxcare. I'm trying to respect their request that I don't call. I feel like tech support has a restraining order on me. It's tough playing by the rules. I just may have to take a nap and chase this windmill in the early morning hours.

Thomas B. Wilson, tbw@linux.com





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