Originally Published: Saturday, 4 March 2000 Author: Thomas B. Wilson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Dot Crazed

Last week I wrote about my Newbie travails in configuring my modem with Mandrake 6.0 and Windows 98. Utilizing my enormous powers of limited deductive reasoning, I ultimately determined that there were no hardware conflicts. Instead, the problem was in connecting with my Internet Service Provider.

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Last week I wrote about my Newbie travails in configuring my modem with Mandrake 6.0 and Windows 98. Utilizing my enormous powers of limited deductive reasoning, I ultimately determined that there were no hardware conflicts. Instead, the problem was in connecting with my Internet Service Provider.

My ISP is MCI Worldcom. It petulantly does not accept my modem log-in attempts. MCI has proprietary software that is needed to establish a connection. And, of course, the software does not recognize Linux. I'm beginning to feel that a higher power has decided that I deserve a slow, arduous torture.

Then one day, I read about 1stup.com and the haze clears. It is a free, unlimited access ISP. This concept appeals to me, because I can now download PhatLinux 3.2. My enormous powers of limited deductive reasoning have led me to believe that I will be happier with PhatLinux vs. Mandrake. I originally passed on it because my 56k modem would take hours to download 190MB of files. With free, unlimited access, a slow modem connection is not an issue anymore.

I still need a Linux-friendly ISP though. I go to the #linux help IRC room, and ask if anyone is aware of any such ISPs. Maybe, just maybe, I will find a Linux Wizard who will wave a wand and turn my modem into a Nimbus 2000. I anxiously await backdoor, override commands that will unlock corporate secrets, topple governments, and establish a Linux Internet connection for yours truly.

A voice whispers, "ISPs don't care what your operating system is." Huh? Obviously, this cracker doesn't realize that he is dealing with a crazed Newbie. He further opines that "all I need to do is establish a PPP connection." I consider all sorts of evil, impatient, frustrated expletives. A moment of sanity interrupts and I consent to rational communication. I explain that with MCI, I receive the following error message, "auth_reason=19^j". And that with 1stup, I receive "^D^EM-\^B^F".

The self anointed guru replies, "Dunno, I haven't used dial-up for years." Huh? Then why make a statement that ISPs don't care what your operating system is. He further explains that MCI may use a proprietary login-routine, like AOL. Dread creeps into the picture. I know that I am in trouble when AOL enters a Linux chat room. Regardless, he concludes that "it is always best to use a local ISP and to check the yellow pages."

So much for instant gratification. Worse, I have to admit that he is probably right. 1stup tells me that I need their banner software to connect and it is not Linux-compatible. I check out Panix.com which is the oldest ISP in New York, but they will not accept my phone calls until a few more hours from now. Uh-oh, there is little chance that I will stay focused on this issue for more than another minute.

I go to Linuxberg.com and there is a link to Linux Friendly ISPs. Hah! I consult the list and contact a few at the top. AT&T is on the list. I call them, but it's all propaganda and disinformation. AT&T is not Linux-friendly. The same cruel joke exists with Erols. Mindless activity suddenly becomes more appealing. I go get a cup of coffee at the corner deli.

I return and decide to go into ISP denial. I'll just download PhatLinux instead. I keep smiling about how my coffee seems Pretty Hot And Tempting. I log onto 1stup, deal with the annoying banner, and proceed to download PhatLinux. I smugly swagger away from the computer. I can't help but relish this victory. I'm going to be a bad winner. I return a few minutes later to gloat at the computer screen. But, what do I find? For some reason, the computer stopped downloading files. Surely, it must be a one time, once in a millennium snafu.

I start the process again. All will be right this time. (Hubris kicks in). Maybe I'll just multitask this baby and download the files while I go to sleep. I retire for the evening and contemplate manning my newfound operating system in the morning. I can't sleep. I get up to check on the new world order, and what do I find? The modem is disconnected.

The Linuxberg site warned that it is better to download from an FTP server than from a browser. I am starting to see it their way. I do a Google search and find WS_FTP Pro. It costs $30, but I can demo it for 30 days. Perfect, this coronation shouldn't take much longer than that. Surprisingly, I download the program successfully. It's been a while since I've used FTP, but I figure it out pretty quickly, find the PhatLinux program on Linuxberg, and re-download.

Oh brother! I determine that the power management feature keeps shutting down the computer whenever I try to exhibit a normal life and walk away. I go to the BIOS and disable everything that has to do with the Rapid Resume manager on my IBM Aptiva S90. It doesn't work. I go to the power management feature in the Control Panel of Windows 98 and make sure that the hard drive and monitor never shut down. It doesn't work.

I have a brilliant solution. I open a StarOffice text document and scotch tape the dot button down on the number pad. It's kind of a textual perpetual motion device. Dots splay down innumerable pages. No inactivity here. Kiss my dots. I walk away, empowered by my newfound engineering abilities.

Hmm. This utility program must have some sort of artificial intelligence. It isn't buying my ruse. It's become a cat and mouse game now. Unfortunately, I'm Tom and my computer is Jerry. The FTP software keeps asking me if I want to resume where I left off when it disconnected. I smell a trap and keep declining, then I realize that I may be overthinking this conspiracy theory thing.

I find godot. And we find a routine. The modem disconnects when the computer senses no activity. I reappear from the shadows, go online again, see the light, and gladly accept the very kind offer from FTP Pro to begin where we left off. I now understand the calm of enlightenment. I hear a mantra from above, "Butterfly, this is why it is better to use FTP rather than a browser."

I'm in the zone, I'm advancing, victory will be mine. Do I want a ticker tape parade down Silicon Alley or just the gratitude of the whole free world? Noblesse oblige takes over. I defer to democracy and allow the general populace an online tally to determine my place in history.

I'm blinded by a silicon eclipse, my coffee sours, the haze settles, and I realize that, once again, I'm inside the looking glass. The modem won't connect anymore with 1stup. There is a little monotone man in my box. He keeps repeating the same phrase, as if someone is pulling a cord in his back. "RA 1 Channel 1, RA 1 Channel 1." I try multiple connection numbers, but I'm haunted by "RA 1 Channel 1, RA 1 Channel 1."

I contact technical support and they are not familiar with the phrase. Am I speaking in tongue? "Maybe it is a radio or a TV station." Maybe you don't know what you are talking about. The tech guy puts me on hold and tries to access the Manhattan numbers. He gets through on one out of three numbers that he tries. Some people have all the luck. "The server must be down, I'd just keep trying all the different access numbers."

"RA 1 Channel 1, RA 1 Channel 1." It haunts me. But modem man doesn't know who he's dealing with here. I add all ten dialup numbers for area code 212. I've got all day. What I lack in brains I compensate with numbingly dumb persistence. I decide to mix it up a little bit and remove the "disable call waiting" feature in my dialup connection. What do you know?! I'm online again.

Of course I am now at the mercy of every telemarketing schmuck who calls in and thereby disconnects me. Regardless, my head is bloodied but unbowed. I've downloaded 110MB of PhatLinux. I need 80 more. I drift in and out of consciousness. I begin to wonder what Linux heaven is like. Maybe I need to get out more often.

So that's where I'm at this week. I've got Linux in my back pocket but no ISP to share it with. No problem, I will live to fight another day. I turn up the Macy Gray CD, kick back, and slowly fade to black.

Thomas B. Wilson, tbw@linux.com

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