VOICE Home Page: http://www.os2voice.org
|By Timothy F. Sipples© June 2003|
(The views expressed in this article are not necessarily
those of IBM Corporation.)
Day 4: Monday, March 17, 2003
President Bush just announced he's giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Baghdad
before the bombs rain down. Last night I attended my first anti-war rally, and I
just pray that nobody gets killed. I have the television shut off -- too distressing.
I'm worrying about silly things: When will I get my new high-speed DSL Internet
connection? Do I really want all that bad news delivered faster? I feel a bit guilty
worrying about such trivialities.
Orange Alert now. Maybe I need some duct tape along with that DSL.
For a couple years I've enjoyed local telephone service from RCN,
a competitor to the local Bell telephone monopoly, SBC, formerly Ameritech, formerly
Illinois Bell. RCN uses the same telephone wires as SBC to provide service, but
I paid 15% less since RCN could pass along some of the savings they got by buying
circuits in bulk. In return for opening its lines, SBC got concessions from regulators.
I was proud to be part of that grand experiment, and for a while it worked.
RCN decided to raise rates, however. Now its rates are actually a touch higher
than SBC's from what I can tell. Moreover, RCN only offers ordinary telephone service
over SBC's lines since recent FCC decisions effectively preserve SBC's DSL monopoly.
Plus RCN seems to have trouble completing my calls. I frequently have to dial twice
after the first try results in a strange silence on the line. Then there's my brother,
taunting me because I don't have DSL like he does.
So, unfortunately, the monopoly wins this time. It's back to SBC, just where
pitchman Tommy Lee Jones says I should be. At least Tommy went to Harvard, and his
roommate was Al Gore, the guy who wouldn't be invading Iraq right now. I visited
the main SBC web site to see what they had. Right
on the front page they invited me to "Come back to SBC." SBC says they'll
waive all switching charges if I return. So, I called the 800 number, and, unlike
RCN, someone answered the phone right away.
I told the SBC woman that I wanted to find out about switching my service from
RCN to SBC, and I also wanted to add DSL. She immediately offered me a wonderful
local phone service package for $21.95 per month with unlimited local calling plus
SBC Yahoo! DSL service for
another $29.95 per month, a full $5 less than the advertised price. Little did she
know that I did my homework by visiting places like Fatwallet's
discussion forums. "That's nice," I said, "but I'd like just basic
telephone service where I pay for each call, plus DSL." You could almost hear
the groans on the other end of the phone.
Welcome to the wonderful world of semi-regulated monopolies. SBC, like most local
telephone companies, is obliged to sell whatever the regulators declare as the standard
service at the regulated rates. In Chicago that's $5.53 per month, plus the myriad
taxes and fees. (Good luck finding this plan on SBC's web site.) That level of service
provides unlimited incoming calls at no extra charge, but outgoing local calls are
5 cents each or less. ("Local" means within 8 miles.) So if I make more
than 328 local calls each month, the $21.95 plan is attractive. Does anyone actually
make 11 calls every day, every month? I dial out to the Internet constantly, and
I can't remember ever racking up 328 calls. Maybe I'll start calling a lot more,
but I doubt it.
So, I ordered my $5.53/month local service plus $29.95/month DSL. I left off
all the other frills, like call waiting, voice mail, caller ID, etc., although I
asked the SBC woman to read through them just so I could hear all the money I was
saving. I suppose I am a bit shallow that way. She didn't tell me about the 30 local
call package for a mere $0.50, but I'll sign up for that on SBC's web site soon
enough. I was assured there'd be no switching fee, although I did have to promise
I'd be signed up for 12 months to get the $29.95 DSL, and there would be a $12.95
shipping charge for DSL equipment. (The equipment is otherwise free, though.) The
DSL rate goes up to $49.95 after 12 months, although I'll cross that bridge when
I get there. (The Fatwallet-ers report it's easy enough to get that down to a more
The DSL part of the order would be difficult for just about anyone. "Would
you like a static IP address?" ("A what?" most people would ask.)
"What operating system are you running?"
I lied. "Windows 2000," I said. I should have told her Macintosh, since
that's on her list, too. I certainly didn't want to be charged the $150 "installation
visit" for Linux and other "exotic" operating systems only businesses
(who can afford to pay more) would run. In fact I didn't really lie, since I've
got a Windows 2000 virtual hard disk for Virtual PC somewhere. She was just reading
from a computer screen, so I didn't want to confuse her. Play dumb-smart and the
bill comes out right.
"Do you have a desktop or laptop?" "Laptop," I said. "Oh,
then I'll send you a free ethernet adapter for that." Now, that's nice! I'll
be surfing over to eBay to unload that item, since
she didn't want to know if my laptop already had an ethernet port. (It does.) Apparently
SBC's free laptop ethernet adapter has eComStation and OS/2 Warp drivers, so there's
good news all over.
I suppose I should mention that DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It's
a high speed connection that works over ordinary telephone wires. Most home subscribers,
like me, pick the basic DSL service that shares your line with your regular telephones.
DSL is an "always on" technology, and I can make and receive regular telephone
calls over the same wires at the same time. No more busy signals for callers while
I'm dialed up to the Internet. HowStuffWorks.com
has a good explanation of DSL technology.
DSL isn't offered everywhere. I have to be close enough to my local telephone
exchange switching office, and some switching offices don't offer DSL. (I'm about
10,000 feet away. A few thousand feet more and I'd be ineligible.) SBC offers DSL
in parts of Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan,
Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin. DSL directly competes with
high speed Internet service from cable television companies. My neighbor has Comcast's
high speed service and seems happy with it.
In Illinois, the basic SBC service (mine) bills itself as 768 Kbps download speed,
128 Kbps upload speed. Most people report getting close to these numbers from what
I could find on DSL Reports, a web site
with great DSL information and tools. In fact, with that web site and SBC's
own help pages, I feel really confident I'll be speed-surfing in no time. Except
I'll have to wait "5 to 10 days," according to the SBC woman. These things
take a little time. Like diplomacy.
Did I mention it's Orange Alert?
Day 8: Friday, March 22, 2003
Yesterday I got a letter from SBC saying that my DSL order was "in process."
The letter was hand-addressed, oddly enough.
Today I got a package, but it wasn't my DSL kit. IBM sent me a keyboard I ordered
for my ThinkPad. The spacebar was acting up, so I called and IBM sent a replacement
under warranty. The design is brilliant. Just two screws: pop out the old one, pop
in the new one, and... new keyboard. (I'm using that keyboard to type this entry.)
No need to send in the machine and wait. This replacement part arrived overnight.
Even though I work for IBM, I don't think this level of service is unique.
The war started. The Z! audio player does
a great job with streaming MP3 audio feeds from Shoutcast/Icecast servers. Several
have Iraq-related audio feeds, from all points of view. "War No More Radio"
is now playing various protest songs, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum,
I found a "bootleg" MSNBC audio feed. Pacifica
Radio has lots of anti-war coverage. Someone else is rebroadcasting the frankly
cartoonish Fox News. "We've seen some
wild stuff," says the Fox reporter. Super.
I mention the audio feeds because the low-fidelity versions work fine over my
dial-up Internet connection, with surprisingly good quality, but some streaming
audio stations have higher quality feeds. DSL provides access to those stations,
without losing the ability to visit web sites and download files concurrently.
Casualty reports are coming in, on both sides. I hope no one else gets killed.
I've seen many wired and wireless "DSL/cable routers" advertised for
as little as $20. These hardware devices provide firewall and PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet)
capabilities, so I could plug in any device with an ethernet interface using DHCP
(Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). That includes Sony Playstations. A router
would make my ThinkPad's setup trivial, but I'll hold off and try setting up PPPoE
directly under OS/2 Warp when the time comes. SBC Yahoo! uses PPPoE for its standard
My brother asked today if I had my DSL yet. Damn him! (Just kidding.)
Day 11: Tuesday, March 25, 2003
I'm getting restless. It's getting on the long side of SBC's estimate, unless
the SBC lady meant business days, so I wonder what's taking so long. Maybe getting
phone service switched from RCN takes some time. Strange, though, since the telephone
monopoly owns the wires anyhow.
Now that I think about it more, it would be nice to have high speed Internet
access wherever I roam at home. I think it would be entertaining to listen to Internet
radio stations with my ThinkPad sitting on the nightstand. I did some more research
on a couple options. I could get an 802.11b wireless access point. That's a box
with an antenna that plugs into the DSL modem (via an ethernet cable). The box has
a built-in PPPoE client and firewall, and then it shares the broadband connection
through ethernet ports (for other wired devices) and wirelessly (using 802.11b protocol
or its cousins like 802.11a and 802.11g, depending on the model). These boxes are
often called "wireless cable/DSL routers" by their manufacturers, and
the wired models are called simply "cable/DSL routers." One side benefit
is that I wouldn't have to install PPPoE client software from F/X
Communications or LinkGuard Solutions.
I could simply configure eComStation or OS/2 Warp as an ordinary DHCP client.
Past issues of VOICE discuss using 802.11b wireless networking with eComStation
and OS/2 Warp. I didn't ask for it, but my ThinkPad has a Cisco 350 wireless adapter
already installed. I'll have to do some digging to see if there's a driver available.
Wireless cable/DSL routers are extremely inexpensive now, especially when on
sale with a rebate or two. I've seen them selling for as little as $20 each, after
discounts. Some models have a parallel printer port and act as a standard LPD-style
print server. I could use that to connect my Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4L to my wireless
home network, printing through the air. Examples of wireless cable/DSL routers with
a parallel port and print server include the D-Link
DI-714P+ and DI-713P, NetGear FM114P, SMC
7004AWBR, and Siemens SpeedStream 2623
and 2624. All these boxes have a small, built-in web server to control all configuration
I will have to do a little homework to figure out wireless networking security,
i.e. how to make sure some neighbor doesn't share my high speed Internet connection
without my knowledge or permission. Using WEP (encryption) can help. A Google
search on "wireless security" looks promising.
Home powerline networking is another option. All the rooms in my apartment have
electrical outlets, including the bathroom, and Speedstream
has both powerline cable/DSL routers and powerline adapters. Hook an ethernet cable
from the powerline router to the DSL modem, then plug the powerline router into
your home electrical outlet (as I would anyway). Hook a powerline adapter to any
home electrical outlet in any room, hook my PC (via ethernet cable) to that adapter,
and then my regular ethernet driver, configured with TCP/IP and DHCP, completes
the connection. I can roam from room to room by taking my powerline adapter (and
ethernet cable) with me, or I can put an adapter in each room. No extra wires to
run through my home, and there's some basic encryption so my downstairs neighbors
can't tap into the same scheme unless I want them to. (In Speedstream's products,
looks like I'd get one or more 2502 powerline ethernet adapters and either the 2510
or 2524 router. The 2524 adds wireless, too. No parallel port on these routers,
Most companies have service agreements that ban sharing access with neighbors
unless signing up for their "business" service (at a higher price). I
have a neighbor with Comcast's high speed cable modem Internet service, and I started
investigating simply sharing that connection, wirelessly, until I uncovered the
restriction in Comcast's contract terms. Certainly many people break those rules,
but that's not something I recommend. By the way, Comcast restricts its service
to specific MAC addresses. The MAC address is a hexadecimal number embedded in every
network adapter, including every ethernet and Token-Ring adapter. This number is
essentially a manufacturer-specific serial number, so each one is unique. When establishing
service, Comcast discovers the network adapter's MAC address and then programs its
routers so they only handle traffic from registered devices. So if I tried putting
a cable/DSL router on the line, it wouldn't have a registered MAC address, and my
neighbor would at least have to call to pretend she just got a new PC with a new
network adapter. Naturally, Comcast charges a fee to make the change. Some cable/DSL
routers let you change their MAC addresses, so that's another way to solve the problem,
provided the computer's MAC address gets changed, too.
SBC Yahoo! doesn't do any MAC address locking as far as I know, but I'm not interested
in reselling or sharing my high speed connection with anyone else.
Many high speed Internet providers' contracts include limitations on running
any server, such as a web server, using residential-class service. I think SBC's
terms include that limitation, although apparently it's only enforced in clear cases.
I just did my first web-delivered demonstration from the office today using the
high speed connection there. It worked extremely well, and it was less expensive
than getting on an airplane yet nearly as effective. Looks like I'll have many ways
to use that high speed connection at home. Several web sites offer that service,
usually called "web conferencing," and I won't bother to list them all
here. They vary in their friendliness to eComStation and OS/2 Warp. Many use a web-delivered
Java applet to view a presentation. Actually delivering the presentation with my
favorite operating system might be more difficult, but I'll do some research on
that when time permits. eComStation's Desktop On-Call remote control should work
well over a high speed connection if I leave my ThinkPad at home. Although SBC DSL
assigns a dynamic address to my home PC, there are some ways to find that address
while traveling. More on that subject later.
Tough going in Iraq. Now past Israel's famous Six Day War in duration, and Donald
Rumsfeld said today that we're much closer to the beginning than the end. I think
that means at least two weeks of war. Silliest story of the day? Some bozo on eBay
refuses to ship items he sells to Canada, Mexico, France, or Germany, because none
of those countries' governments backed the Anglo-American invasion. Did he forget
that Canadians housed and fed weary American travelers on transatlantic flights
forced to land on 9/11? Or that German troops now help keep the peace in Afghanistan,
preventing possible terrorist activity? Naturally this guy's "diplomacy"
encourages Europeans and others to boycott Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, Levis,
Hollywood movies, and lots of other U.S.-made products. Yes, that'll help the economy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is on in one minute. Time to go!
Day 12: Wednesday, March 26, 2003
I called SBC to check on the status of my order. After a few minutes on hold,
and after some scary misinformation that my service order could take up to 45 days,
I was told that at least the line would be switched by Friday. I asked whether the
DSL kit shipped, and there was no record of that yet. So I'm doubtful I'll be DSLing
U.S. says it's sending 25,000 more troops to Iraq. Other reports say 5,000 Iraqi
exiles returning home to fight against the Anglo-American forces. I don't like any
of these reports.
Haven't found a Cisco Aironet 350 driver yet, but I'm still checking. Keeping
an eye on wireless router prices.
I thought of a way to deliver remote presentations. When I connect my ThinkPad
to the Internet using DSL, it will get a public IP address. If I'm running Desktop
On-Call or VNC, customers can connect to that
address with their web browsers to see what I'm doing on my ThinkPad, live. I can
talk with customers over the regular telephone and deliver really nice presentations.
I'll have to be careful about managing security, but this method avoids the steep
fees charged by online web conferencing companies like WebEx.
Innotek's Virtual PC provides a built-in VNC
server for each guest operating system. So to allow customers to view a particular
Virtual PC guest I could set up a small web server that delivers a Java applet VNC
viewer such as TightVNC. Desktop On-Call encrypts
its connection without any extra effort, so that's an advantage over VNC. Loads
of options to consider, all free. (eComStation includes Desktop On-Call.)
I'm beginning to wonder whether I should bother hauling my ThinkPad to the office
once I get DSL. I could leave it running Desktop On-Call at home, then log in from
any web browser at the office. Trouble is, how would I know what dynamic address
my ThinkPad got from SBC? One way to handle that problem is to use a Dynamic DNS
service, such as CJB.NET or DynDNS.org.
Google has a long
list of Dynamic DNS providers, many of which are free. Hobbes has a bunch
of Dynamic DNS client software packages, and there are many others written in
Java that work fine, too. If I set up Dynamic DNS, I can always access my DSL-attached
ThinkPad using the same name (for example, timsthinkpad.dyndns.org) no
matter what numeric IP address SBC assigns. That way, even if I'm not home to check
what numeric IP address my ThinkPad got, I can still find it on the Internet. Some
of the cable/DSL routers I mentioned before have built-in Dynamic DNS clients, so
that's another possibility.
Day 16: Sunday, March 30, 2003
I have no idea if SBC switched my service this past Friday. A moot issue now
since I won't be home again until Thursday night. I'm on an Amtrak train bound for
St. Paul, Minnesota, where I have business meetings through Wednesday, then some
more in Madison, Wisconsin, on the way back home Thursday. I haven't received a
DSL kit yet nor the automated phone call promised after the switch.
That reminds me of the time I rode Amtrak with my ThinkPad, "wardriving."
I managed to pick up at least 100 wireless networks between Milwaukee and Chicago,
more than one per mile. It appeared that about half were wide open. I'll try not
to make the same mistakes. I remember some of the security advice I found on the
But I can't remember if I'm supposed to use "shared key" or "open
system" WEP authentication, so I'll have to double check what the security
experts say. Even with all these configuration changes two problems remain. First,
WEP encryption really isn't all that secure if the key stays the same because, given
enough network traffic, somebody can break the code. But who wants to bother changing
keys every day or even every week? Second, once the network traffic hits the DSL
line it's in the clear unless encrypted with SSL, PGP, VPN, etc. At least the second
problem is the same as any other Internet connection.
This morning I concluded that I can ask better questions than Fox News' reporters.
Nice view. Lots of corn fields outside now. The farmers should be planting soon.
I usually fly over these fields, but my Mooney is waiting for a new starter relay.
I hate flying the airlines: taking off my shoes, my belt, my underwear. OK, the
last bit hasn't happened yet. We need more and faster trains.
Battery running low. Time to find an electrical outlet. I think there's one in
the lounge car.
Day 20: Thursday, April 3, 2003
Got home tonight and there's still no DSL kit waiting for me. I heard a radio
ad for SBC Yahoo! DSL on the way home. (Too bad I can't seem to get it.) However,
I tried SBC's web site tonight, and the system partially recognized me. I was able
to add the "Local Saver Pack 30" feature for 50 cents to my service, although
I couldn't otherwise access my account.
Then I read the fine print. With the Local Saver Pack 30, all local calls after
the first 30 are 10 cents each. That's an awful deal for me, so I e-mailed SBC to
ask them to reverse tonight's order.
Day 22: Saturday, April 5, 2003
Phoned SBC and they now say April 10th for the switch, April 14th or 15th for
DSL. Yeah, sure. "On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best, how would you rate
your SBC service?"
"Incomplete," I answered.
CompUSA has a wired cable/DSL router on
sale for $9.99 after rebate. That's one cheap PPPoE client! I'm bidding on a Speedstream
2624 wireless router (with printer port) listed on eBay, but I won't be sorry if
Horrible news in Chicago this week. Mayor Daley sent bulldozers in the middle
of the night early Monday morning to damage the Meigs Field runway. Friends
of Meigs Field is fighting this blow to public safety and common sense. Meigs
Field is Flight Simulator's default home airport, making Meigs as famous as the
Day 31: Monday, April 14, 2003
SBC's web site is slowly recognizing my existence. I was able to log on and establish
an online account based on my telephone number. However, there's not much evidence
that the DSL service is turned on. The order status page on the web has no idea
there's an order.
That 45 day estimate is beginning to look reasonable, unfortunately. Time to
work on the tax forms...
Day 34: Thursday, April 17, 2003
Just got home tonight, and there's a note from United Parcel Service left at
my door. It's SBC's DSL kit! Looks like I'm staying home tomorrow to meet the delivery
Day 35: Friday, April 18, 2003
Oh happy day! Mr. UPS brought a purple boxed SBC Yahoo! DSL kit. Inside I found
a Siemens/Efficient Networks Speedstream 5100 DSL modem with power supply, lots
of DSL filters (including one wall mount filter, pictured at left), some cables
(ethernet, telephone line cord), a packet of instructions, a CD with some software,
and a PC Card ethernet adapter (which will become my eBay reward).
I skipped the instructions, for the most part, except to check the inventory
list. The Macintosh manual, which I wanted, was all sealed up with dire warnings.
"Use only if you have a Macintosh. Are you sure you have a Macintosh? Macintosh
is spelled M-A-C-I-N-T-O-S-H. Please confirm you have a Macintosh before reading
this manual." That's what it said. Honest.
So I plugged the filters into the telephone jacks, plugged my two telephones
into the filters, plugged the DSL modem into the filter port for the data line (pictured
below right), hooked the ethernet cable between my Warped computer and the DSL modem,
powered up the modem, and then waited to see what would happen.
I had previously installed the OS/2 Warp PPPoE client software from F/X Communications.
Couldn't be simpler, really. Nice job, F/X! (The only little twist is that you can't
use the MPTS setup program to change your network configuration after installing
F/X's software, but that's not unlike using a Novell ODI network adapter driver.
I've seen it before, and F/X Communications provides excellent documentation explaining
how to briefly uninstall their driver, change your network configuration with MPTS,
then reinstall. By the way, eComStation 1.1 includes PPPoE support already.) So
I was ready. The Macintosh manual ("Do you honestly have a Macintosh? We're
dead serious here at SBC. You must have a Macintosh.") included the "secret"
user ID and password for PPPoE signon to get registered. The user ID is sbcyahooregDESPAMsbcglobal.net
and the password is sbcyahooreg. It's not really secret. The SBC
Yahoo! DSL help pages have the same information. Just look for the Mac OS 10.2
However, I had trouble registering. (I hear the Linux people have the same problem.)
Netscape 4.61, Mozilla 1.3, and Mozilla 1.4a all didn't work. Microsoft Internet
Explorer running under a Virtual PC session got farther, but it wanted to install
some Yahoo! software (spyware?) to complete the registration, and even that didn't
work. (Apparently you have to install that CD that came in the box first. No thank
registration web page is certainly picky. I thought about faking the user agent
value so that I looked like a Macintosh ("Are you 100% positive you have a
Macintosh?"), but I didn't try that. In digging around the various how-to pages
on the Internet, I saw that there was a small program, DSLREG.EXE, provided for
Windows users with Netscape. So I did a Google search on that filename (and SBC
DSL), and I found it somewhere buried in the SBC Yahoo! DSL help pages. It's probably
on the CD I haven't even looked at, too. Then I ran that program in a Virtual PC
session. Bingo! That did the trick, and it was quite easy to remove that junk from
the guest Windows session after I registered. Two hundred questions later, I had
my account up-and-running, and I switched the F/X PPPoE configuration to my new
user ID and password.
Whoa. This is impressively fast. The speed test page (search on "Test"
in the SBC Yahoo! DSL help pages) shows I'm getting about 85% of 384 Kbps download,
128 Kbps upload. That's considered very good, actually.
Since my IP address is on the public Internet now, I decided to look into locking
down my OS/2 Warp IP stack.
Day 38: Monday, April 21, 2003
Today the speed tests show that my service cycled up to 768 Kbps download, 128
Kbps upload. So my download speed just doubled automatically. I guess I live close
enough to the telephone switching office to handle the advertised speed. Amazing
how many files I "need" to download now.
Yahoo! Briefcase isn't very hot at all.
I signed up for 760 MB of storage, instead of Yahoo! Games and a free online encyclopedia,
and that sounded great at the time. Only trouble is that uploading is unreliable
from any operating system, and when it does work the service limits me to files
about 5 MB each (one or two at a time). So I can upload a whole CD worth of data,
as long as I break it up into 5 MB chunks. Not hot. I'm trying to run the registration
program again to switch to the free games and encyclopedia, but Yahoo! isn't making
that switch easy.
I do have to be careful. I seem to be suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, since
DSL indoors is so enticing. Maybe I'll take the Brompton
out for a spin, though. Those pictures of spring I see in my Mozilla
browser do remind me it might be worth stepping outside.
The ethernet cable that came with my DSL kit is already showing signs of wear,
with both ends starting to work themselves out of the RJ-45 modular jacks. I do
miss the days of indestructible Bell rotary telephones. A little bit, anyway.
I'm now starting to worry about protecting my Warped ThinkPad from intruding
hackers, and fortunately I've got an operating system that's quite secure unless
I do something stupid. I do run a couple commands to combat certain attacks:
inetcfg -s synattack 1
inetcfg -s syncookie 1
Both hardware and software firewalls (such as F/X's) would be a major improvement. But that's a topic for another diary.
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