They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To

remoteYesterday I found that the Belkin Wireless Router I’d been using as a wireless access point had completely died on me. It simply would not power on – I don’t know if the problem was in the device itself or in its power adapter, but in either case – I had no wireless in my house. While this isn’t a problem for me personally (my computer is hard-wired into the network), it is a problem for Amanda, who often works from her laptop at home – and that connects wirelessly.

With a snow storm (supposedly) on the way, and thus the possibility that she’d be working from home, I needed to get wireless access working again.

First though, a little background.

I’ve been using a Netgear RT314 4-port 10/100 Ethernet Router since around 1997, and I’d never had any problems with it. Being that a router is generally a solid-state electronic component, I had always assumed all routers (and switches and hubs) were just the same – they’d die when their electronics shorted out, but if that didn’t happen they’d last basically forever.

About 2 years ago a good friend of mine got me the Belkin wireless router – I don’t now recall what model (it’s in the trash). Ironically, it didn’t work well as a router – in fact, it didn’t work at all as a router. I never had a high regard for the Belkin brand (as far as routers go, anyway) so I just switched it to “wireless access point mode,” a feature that was very handy. In this mode, all the “router” features were turned off, and it functioned just like a simple wireless access point. Perfect!

So when the Belkin died, I was in no rush to buy another of the same brand – and given the choice between the other 2 leaders (Netgear and Linksys), I’d personally go with Netgear – so that’s what I did.

Given that I had no problems with my current router, I was hesitant to go out and buy a whole new router – why buy what I don’t need, right? But to my surprise, simple, dumb wireless access points cost more than a similar wireless router! So, given the choice between paying more for less, or paying less and getting more, I opted for the latter and picked up a Netgear WGR614 Wireless-G Router. I suppose you could call it the spiritual decedent of my venerable old RT314.

Now, I could have used the new router as a wireless access point and not given up my old RT314 – it would’ve been a little weird, but it would have worked. However, after much consideration, I finally decided to retire the RT313 and let the new kid on the block take on the leading role.

Whatever anyone else says, the setup for the Netgear is quite simple. (Simpler than the Belkin’s setup – which was awful, that’s for sure!) I of course skipped the whole “insert this CD before attaching your router” instructions – I’m a professional IT-type person; I know how these things work.

My old Netgear used the 192.168.0.x IP address range- unlike the dominant Linksys, which always used 192.168.1.x. (I know this because I’ve set up VPN access for people before, and having the right subnet makes a difference.) I was therefore surprised when I noticed the new router used the 192.168.1.x range – I guess they decided to jump on the bandwagon with that one. Still, I like being different (and I have other reasons), so I switched it back – fortunately they still let you do this.

After that, it was just a simple task of entering all my settings from the old router – port forwarding mostly, and of course the whole reason for doing all this – wireless! The web-based configuration for Netgear has gotten a bit “flashy” compared to the old RT314, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. Still, it worked well, no problems and no surprises.

So now, the job of my Internet gateway (starkeith-gw.starkeith.net) and my wireless access point (Aether) are being performed by one device.

As time goes by, we’ll see how well this new router holds up. I’ve heard stories of routers that need to be reset every few days, or that die out after a certain amount of data/packets are sent, or other such nonsense. I think many of these problems come from newer routers and devices trying to do too much, or being made with firmware that was rushed into production, without proper testing.

My old RT314 never had to be reset. Ever.

Oh, I’d had to reset modems before – cable modems (back when cable Internet was still very new) and DSL modems (from time to time) – but never the router.

We’ll see if this new one holds up to the high standard set by its predecessor. Here’s hoping!

Icon courtesy of the Crystal Icon Set.

UPDATE: The Saga Continues

USB Madness

It occurred to me last night, as I hooked up some new gadgets to my computer, that I have… an obnoxious amount of USB peripherals.

  • Keyboard
  • Regular mouse
  • Trackball mouse
  • Printer
  • iPod
  • Memory Card reader
  • IR receiver for the Windows Media Center remote control
  • External hard drive
  • Bluetooth adapter
  • USB headphone/headset
  • Gamepad

This was brought to mind when I had to hook up a powered USB hub last night, because I ran out of USB ports on my computer (and my computer has 8 USB ports of its own!).

Is it… bad that I have so much crap attached to my computer? Or is it normal these days to have dozens of USB peripherals?

Applying Old Laws to New Technology

You’ve probably heard of the RIAA and the MPAA (the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, respectively) before. They’ve been in the news a lot lately – suing old people who don’t have a computer for sharing mp3 files on the Internet and so forth.

A recent Slashdot story tells the tale of just how twisted this story has become.

The basic problem here is one of scale.

Before the Internet and P2P, the average person simply did not have the means to undertake large-scale copyright violation. Sure, you could copy a tape, or even a VHS casette, but you still had to:

  1. Pay for the tapes
  2. Pay to distribute them (postage, gas for driving to your friends house, etc.)
  3. Take the time to make each copy individually

So by and large, individual copyright violations remained decidedly small scale. The effects of such violations were not statistically significant1 to the copyright holders (as far as their profit was concerned), so they were not pursued.

Fast-forward to the current day. Now we have the Internet, P2P software, and music is now digital. This is a huge difference – the cost of making copies is now basically $0 (it’s all just bits & bytes), and the cost of distributing it is basically $0 as well (or, rather, the cost started low and is approaching zero, as bandwidth gets cheaper and cheaper).

Now the average person has the means to distribute copyrighted material to a huge audience. Suddenly, this sort of copyright violation is most definitely statistically significant to the copyright holder. (Or, at least they would have you think so – I still maintain that while significant, it is still very, very small.)

And therein lies the problem. Copyright law (as currently written, and, more importantly, as traditionally enforced) does not scale well. It worked fine when there were only a (relatively) few major copyright violators. It doesn’t work well when everyone & their brother can share an entire music store’s worth of copyrighted materials (music, movies, etc.) to the entire world from their bedroom while they sleep!

So what to do?

One way to deal with this is the draconian, heavy-handed legal way. Strictly speaking, any copyright violation is illegal – no matter how large or small. You could crack down on all of it – sue everyone into oblivion. Pass laws to make the possession of devices used to violate copyright illegal. (This has already been done, by the way. Look up the DMCA.) No excuses!

Of course, it’s easy to see that if you did this, we’d end up back in the stone ages, since all sorts of modern technology can be used to violate copyright – this is nothing new. And the courts have already ruled on this, to a certain extent – back when VHS was new, there were lawsuits about it being used to copy movies at home. The courts ruled that this was covered under “fair use,” and that just because a device might be used to violate copyright does not mean that the device itself should be illegal (especially if the devices’ primary purpose is not copyright violation – devices that are specifically engineered to violate copyright fall into a more uncertain gray area, legally speaking).

Unfortunately, this is the method that the RIAA and MPAA have decided to use in enforcing their “rights.” They want to maintain the “status-quo.” They don’t care what new technology comes out – they want the ability of people to copy their stuff (i.e. music and movies) to remain just as difficult as it was before computers & the Internet. As a direct result of this line of thinking, we have things like DRM and rootkits that hijack our computers (without permission) on our music CDs.

The other way to handle this – the way that should be used (in my opinion), is to make an economic incentive for people not to indulge in wide-scale copyright infringement. After all, that’s what kept it under control in the first place!

To a small extent, this is already underway – though not spearheaded by the RIAA or MPAA, by any means. I’m talking, of course, about things like iTunes. Basically, if you make the music cheap enough, and trust to the general “goodness” in people, they will opt to buy music, rather than steal it. Especially if the purchased music includes “perks,” such as higher quality file formats, or maybe on-line access to additional content (movies, websites, interviews, stuff like that – like what you’d find on a DVD’s “extras” section).

At the same time, you have to remove the barriers to “fair use.” Don’t encode these purchased files so that they can only be played on one computer. People expect to be able to play “their” music on whatever device they choose – and they don’t like it when they can’t. And if they can’t, they’ll go get their music somewhere else – that is to say, from copyright violators on the Internet.

The trick, of course, is balance – something that corporate America is notoriously bad at. But if that balance can be struck, I truly do believe that copyright violations (in the form of normal-person file sharing, anyway) will go way down. It’s not “the status-quo,” and it’s certainly not “the way things used to be,” but hey, markets evolve, and companies (and laws) must evolve with them or perish.


1 In commonly heard arguments, you’ll hear people throw around qualifiers such as “large,” “measurable,” or “increasingly significant” in relation to how much of an effect file sharing (as a form of copyright violation) is having on their industries. This is just a trick of rhetoric – these qualifiers have no measurable or defined quantity. Just one person sharing a Britney Spears track with one other person is technically “measurable,” after all. I’ve used the more accurate statistically significant because statistics is math and can be quantified. I could even come up with the formula necessary to determine it, if I wasn’t lazy.

WordPress Tags

So I’ve been experimenting with WordPress’s new built-in “tags” feature. It’s pretty neat, but it’s not 100% awesome.

For one thing, I’ve got nearly 1,000 posts on this blog so far. Going back and trying to add tags to existing posts is a PAIN IN THE ASS.

Secondly, I find that often the tags I would associate with a post are just the names of the categories I’ll be posting in – so what’s the point? And when you get down to it, tags are basically just categories on crack.

Thirdly, it can be hard to think up tags. I’m not good at it. I have put a lot of tags in back-articles; I’m sure I could have chosen better tags for lots of things. And I’m sure I’ll continue to choose bad tags that only confuse people. Le sigh.

Finally, and this isn’t really a jab at the tagging system itself, but the tag widget I use will completely crap itself if you set the minimum and maximum font sizes to be exactly the same. I thought I would set them to be the same so all the tag links were the same size (I’m not sure I like the different sized items in the “tag cloud” idea), but when I did, I got all sorts of “division by zero” errors on the page and I had to switch it back. Not a big deal, really, but still.

So, I will continue to experiment with tags as time goes by. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Where’d WordPress Learn to Count?

I direct your attention to a recent post of mine. A look at it from the main page shows “Comments (3)”, but when you actually look at the comments, there are only 2.

Looking at the WordPress admin panel shows the same thing. It thinks there are 3 comments, but there are only 2. What’s going on?

wordpress comments bug

I’ve looked into the issue a little bit, and found a few things:

  • Some people have this problem because they manually delete comments. (I don’t; I use Akismet and the built-in WordPress tools to moderate comments.)
  • Some people reported the problem, but they are all hosted on the WordPress.com site (I obviously am not; I’m self-hosted here at starkeith.net.)
  • I’ve read claims that the bug is fixed. I’m running the most recent version of WordPress – so why is it still happening?

Anyone care to comment on this one? I’m stumped!