Friday, December 24, 2010

Meet Emmy

Meet Emmy, the new feline in my life -- adopted from the Austin Humane Society this past Sunday.  Emmy is just over 3 years old and is a domestic short-hair with tortoiseshell coloring.

So far, she's doing very well in her new environment, and got a clean bill-of-health at the vet's office yesterday morning.

I didn't have too many specific requirements for a cat -- but the following traits were desirable:
  1. No litterbox issues (pretty important)
  2. Reasonably good with other cats (in case I happen to end up in a relationship with someone who already has cats)
  3. Has a good "motor" (purrs a lot)
  4. Will be be able to hold a conversation well (in other words, "talks"...cat people know what I mean)
  5. Friendly around other people (in addition to me)
Emmy actually meets all of these, in addition to traveling OK in the car and handles being at the vet's office very well.

I wanted to wait until after this first vet visit before actually saying much here because things could have possibly changed if she had some serious health problem (one never wants to think about this, but vet care for some illnesses can easily cost several thousand dollars).  I have also been a bit recalling some of the sadness for the loss of Smokey a few months ago.

Anyway, expect to hear more about Emmy as time goes on.  If she keeps doing well in the car, I may have a feline companion on my next big car trip!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good News and Bad News

The good news first:  I adopted a cat this weekend from the local humane society, and there is a cat back in my life again.  I will report more on this in an upcoming posting.  I would like to get past the first vet visit on Thursday before writing more.  I was very surprised when I finally got the new cat home, and all the bad memories of what my previous cat went through were dredged-up.  I'm having a little bit of emotional issues as a result.  I'm sure things will get better.

The bad news is more a reflection on some bad news.  I have been receiving police updates via our neighborhood association, and have had an opportunity to spend more time hearing the news.  More and more I have been hearing of burglaries around the area, and that, too, has dredged-up some emotional baggage from several years ago when my house was burglarized.  The M.O. of said burglars are that they knock on the door, and if nobody answers, they kick-in the door, ransack the home (taking with them whatever they want), and leave behind a sense of being violated and not safe in your own home.  It never seems to end.  Law enforcement calls this a "property crime," but I don't agree.  The crime may be burglary, but this doesn't begin to address the emotional stress that the resident(s) of the home endure.

At what point do people feel entitled to inflict this kind of pain on another person?  I can understand where some folks who have been out of work for a long time may feel a sense of futility where crime appears to be the only option to make a living.  I can't understand how someone in this position can justify harming another person in this way as a means toward that end.  If this truly is the rationale for the increase in so-called "property crimes," then my sympathy toward those who are struggling to find work is starting to diminish.

I often hear the excuse, "Well, the victim will just collect the insurance."  That isn't entirely true.  I don't expect that any want-to-be criminals are reading this, but keep in mind that between deductibles, items that are more expensive than the insurance company feels they should be, and items that are either heirlooms or simply difficult to replace for whatever reason, the insurance doesn't really make one "whole."  It simply helps lessen the financial burden inflicted by the crime, and doesn't do anything to lessen the emotional burden of feeling violated.  It isn't just the stuff that's gone, but the safety and security in one's home along with the memories that went with the stuff that was taken or destroyed.

I don't really care if the home being burglarized is that of someone who earns $100 per year or $100,000 per year - all of us are working hard to get and keep what we have, despite what criminals may think.  To make a prerequisite of living comfortably be a home secured like Fort Knox seems ridiculous.  It seems ridiculous, but lately it may be the only way to provide some guarantee of security in one's home.

I try to remain surprised when I hear about these thefts, but I so often hear about both legal and illegal ways to effectively steal from people that I start to (completely) lose my faith in humanity.  It isn't putting a dollar in the Salvation Army collection pot during the holidays that defines humanity.  Sometimes humanity is recognizing that it is wrong to inflict pain on someone else either because you are in pain or because you somehow feel justified in doing so due to your circumstances or some ill-placed sense of entitlement.  "Peace on Earth - Good will toward man."  This is what this holiday season is really all about.  It doesn't mean you are guaranteed it, it means that you are the one who needs to make it happen.  It doesn't mean that people should give what they have to someone else, or someone should take what they feel is just from someone else.  It means that we recognize that the way we get support from others is by giving support in some way as we're able.  Burglarizing someone's house is a violent, extreme form of greed...and if it is accepted as "typical," then I have to question where humanity is headed...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More about the D-Link DSL-520B

NOTE:  This is an update of my previous posting on December 6 titled "at&t Elite DSL and the D-Link DSL-520B"

(Revised Dec. 15 @ 11:18pm)

I have some updated information about the DSL-520B that I would like to share.

Using ddclient with the DSL-520B

I discovered the magic setting that allows this DSL modem to "bridge" the IP acquired during PPPoE to the host using DHCP.  However, it is riddled with problems (see below) and so I am not recommending this method.

Therefore, I needed a way to reliably acquire the IP address from the DSL modem in a way that ddclient (most common Dynamic DNS update client for UNIX-like operating systems) could understand.  The way to do this (in the ddclient.conf file) is to set-up the following as the method for obtaining the IP address:

use=fw
fw=192.168.1.1/wancfg.cmd?action=view
fw-skip=PPPoE
fw-login=admin, fw-password={your-modem's-admin-password}

That's it.  What this does is cause ddclient to log-into the DSL modem, grab a copy of the HTML that contains the status of the WAN configuration (which contains the PPPoE-obtained IP address), then looks for an IP address that follows the word PPPoE.  Thanks much to the information in the Sourceforge forums for ddclient for this info.

Bridging The PPPoE-obtained IP

I hesitate to actually include this here because it functioned so badly that it had me scratching my head trying to figure out what in heck was happening.  The magic option is under Advanced Setup -> WAN, then edit the WAN interface configuration.  Keep pressing Next until you reach the page that says PPP Username and Password.  There, you will see a check-box that says "PPP IP extension".  Check this box.  This will also cause the "Enable NAT" and "Enable Firewall" on the next couple of pages to be grayed-out, since the device is unable to do so effectively (not really, see below).

What I found when I enabled this option is that it would sometimes work.  I'm a computer guy, and I don't like anything that sometimes works.  This usually means there's a bug, but since I have no way of effectively getting access to the inner workings of the DSL modem, I can't really figure out or fix what the trouble is.  That being said, my guess is that this is due to the use of the bridge (br0) interface which is known to have trouble with DHCP under Linux.  Why they use br0 in the first place is a mystery to me, but whatever the case, they're using it wrong, because DHCP sometimes doesn't work and almost always crashes the DHCP client (dhcpcd) on my machine when the modem is power-cycled.  Ugly ugly ugly.

Security Ugliness

Speaking of ugly, I must mention a bit of ugliness that could only be left in a production device by someone with a screw loose.  When I was looking through the iptables configuration inside the DSL-520B, I found two interesting DNAT mappings:  One mapped port 2525 to port 25 (telnet), and the other mapped port 8080 to port 80 (http), on 192.168.1.1.  What does this mean?  Well it means that anyone could, from outside my LAN, connect to the IP externally visible to the world on port 2525 or 8080 and get my DSL modem's telnet or web server respectively.  WTF?!  Now surely you changed all your passwords from the default, didn't you?  Never mind that...what about someone accessing the DSL modem and exploiting some latent bug that turns up a few months from now?

At NO TIME should there EVER be external access granted to a device like this by default.

Needless to say, I removed those entries manually, and am looking to see if there's any way that they can be turned-off permanently through the web-based configuration menus.  I will update this as soon as I figure it out...

Update:  This actually isn't quite as bad as it originally seemed.  It seems that this is a "feature" of being in "IP Extension" mode.  Since I am now back in NAT mode, I am not seeing this problem.

No Speed Issues...with the DSL modem at least

The problems with my DSL speeds not being what I expect are not due to the DSL modem, and the DSL-520B appears to be working the way it should.  It turns out that my DSL provider (at&t/SBC) has not yet deployed ADSL2 in my neighborhood and I'm still running on G.dmt (the older ADSL standard).  I was able to connect my old Adtran DSL modem (only a bridge) and connect that to a Netgear router with PPPoE capability.  I ran my speed tests on dslreports.com again, and they came out identically to the ones done with the D-Link DSL modem by itself.

The speed problems are due to something within at&t...and I will need to call them about that.

Updated Conclusions about the DSL-520B

While I do plan on continuing to use the D-Link DSL-520B, it will be with some caution.  My Adtran DSL modem maintains no statistics to speak of, and only supports G.dmt.  While the DSL-520B hardware seems solid, the firmware in this modem is clunky and really needs an update and some bugfixes.  There is some discussion about OpenWRT being released for the BCM-63xx hardware, and that would theoretically make it usable on the DSL-520B (which is really a 96338 board with 2M flash and 8M of memory).  However, I am concerned about destroying my DSL modem - especially with no way of backing-up the old image (yet).

Is it better than the Motorola DSL modem that self-destructs over time?  Yes and no.  I don't think that the DSL-520B is on a self-destruct course, but the Motorola modem that at&t sells is definitely easier to configure and less problematic firmware-wise (although I may be able to find some holes in that platform also, given some time...).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where The Net Is Going

While going through some old files on my computer, I found something I wrote back in October of 1995 regarding what we saw the Internet becoming.  It seems as applicable today as it was then, and I think it bears repeating...

As I said in the discussion group, I think that there is a danger in people allowing another group of people - either government or private industry - to take control of what looks to be the most innovative form of electronic communication since the telephone.  Looking ahead, I can see an integrated communications pipeline that allows us access to what we currently know as telephone, television, video entertainment, and Internetworking (computer communications).  Is [sic] seems the natural progression as this new technology has the capability to integrate all these together.  As the pioneers of this technology, we need to see to it that it never becomes the wasteland that television has become, the "charged-by-time-and-distance" that the telephone has become, and the regulated medium that radio has become.  We, the pioneers of this new technology, need to police ourselves and lay the framework so that future generations of "netizens" can freely express themselves, and at the same time provide protection to those that may rightfully be offended by some of that expression.  It's easy to use without ever putting something back.  Let's make the net something that the next generation will be proud of us for.
If I knew then what I know now...

Monday, December 6, 2010

at&t Elite DSL and the D-Link DSL-520B

As promised, I had my DSL service activated a few days ago (on Friday).  Having returned to DSL and getting a chance to use it, I have made some interesting observations.  I also have some comments about the D-Link DSL-520B DSL modem I purchased.

The DSL service I purchased from at&t is the DSL Elite package - advertised as 6 Mbps down and 768 Kbps up.  According to my DSL modem's DSL statistics, my line is capable of supporting 9.504 Mbps down and 1.228 Mbps up, and is provisioned as 6.016 Mbps down and 768 Kbps up (as it should be).  In actuality, according to speed tests to several sites on dslreports.com I am getting about 4.8 Mbps down and 680 Kbps up.  The first number is rather disappointing.  It is showing at least 1.2 Mbps less than the advertised speed.  While this is within at&t's "fine print" speed range, it starts giving credence to Time Warner's (smear) advertising campaign that DSL is slow.  Compared to the measured rates I got on my cable modem (when it works), DSL is slow.  It would be advantageous to at&t to start giving customers a more realistic idea of what they should expect as far as bandwidth is concerned.  Giving 4.8 Mbps on a 6 Mbps line and calling it "within the range of service" is kind of like the auto industry's MPG ratings that bear no resemblance to reality.  When cable (when it works) is giving 7 Mbps (and I can really attain that speed) bursting to around 14 Mbps (I've measured this speed), 4.8 Mbps (best I can do) on DSL is pitiful.  No, I don't have Uverse available in my neighborhood.

That being said, while the performance of my DSL service is kind of lackluster, it appears to be reliable as I remember it.  The at&t technician called me before doing the installation and stopped by my house after he connected it to confirm that I had service.  Given that I did a "self installation," having someone check with me to make sure my service was working was a good thing.

The most irritating thing about the DSL installation was the account set-up.  If I must emphasize one thing to at&t, it is that they must not restrict service to ONLY Windows and MacOS users!  I'm not asking for you to give me OS support - I'm asking you to stop restricting me from registering my DSL service.  I was able to find some third-party solution to skipping the "unsupported OS" message but I should never have had to do this.  How much did Microsoft pay you guys at at&t to screw us Linux users?  Argh.

As I have said in the past, it is always a challenge to choose the lesser of two evils:  at&t or Time Warner.  Poor administrative support and slow speeds vs. we don't give a damn if your service works consistently or not.  Choose one or the other.

Instead of paying at&t for the Motorola (aka. speedstream) DSL modem for $65 or $69, I purchased my own DSL modem from Fry's Electronics for $50.  I purchased the D-Link DSL-520B DSL modem.  The device is fairly good and most definitely running Linux under-the-hood.  They pretty much use the Broadcom reference design (96338 board) for the BCM6338 system-on-a-chip (SOC) MIPS-based controller with ADSL2+ support.  The web pages are a bit cryptic in some places, and I am still not sure about some of the configuration parameters I chose, but the defaults (in most cases) seem to do the right thing.  After getting used to the modem, I was able to do some more advanced configuration.  The one thing I would like to do, and for whatever reason I can't, is to allow the PPPoE IP from at&t to be bridged to the Ethernet port and provided to me via DHCP.  Instead, you can only NAT, and the modem is the only device that is privy to your real IP address.  This means that if I run my own firewall and gateway, I need to double-NAT outgoing traffic, which seems stupid to me.  While the firewall in the DSL-520B is just Linux iptables, the web interface doesn't allow me to to do the fine-grained control I do on my own Linux box.  Also, while the DSL-520B has a dynamic DNS update client (for dyndns.com), I don't know how well it works or not and whether it renews my IP registration in 28 days as dyndns.com requires.  I would rather continue to run my own update client, which is kind of impossible to do reliably and efficiently when I don't have direct access to the real IP I am given.

All this being said, for the casual user, the device should work just fine.  In fact, if all you have are wired devices, you can connect the DSL-520B to a switch and let the built-in DHCP server, NAT, and firewall do all the work of a separate "router."  That could be useful for some users.

For those "l33t ha><0r" techie types, the DSL-520B gives you access to the underlying Linux OS and you can do a lot of very cool things.  If you telnet to the unit, you can get to a Linux shell prompt by:
$ telnet 192.168.1.1
Trying 192.168.1.1...
Connected to 192.168.1.1.
Escape character is '^]'.
Login: admin
Password:
> sh


BusyBox v1.00 (2010.08.18-23:32+0000) Built-in shell (msh)
Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.

#
Now, you are able to execute all the iptables commands directly as well as adjust adsl parameters, get all sorts of statistics, and otherwise control the entire box as you wish.  What I have not yet figured out is how to just bypass the dang web interface entirely and simply execute my own commands.  I bet given some time and thought, I could probably make some changes to overcome the bridging issue I mentioned previously.  Note that the OS and utilities all appear to be Broadcom's reference stuff, and that D-Link simply put their own web interface on it.  I'm not faulting D-Link here at all, it's just that (like many of these devices), the chipset can do really cool things but the OS implementation cripples some of the most innovative features.

I was debating whether to just return the DSL modem to Fry's and buy the Motorola modem (notorious for burning up in a few months to a year) or Actiontec or one of those...but given what I can see with the D-Link modem, I think I'll keep it and see if I can unleash some of its pent-up power (hopefully without bricking the unit).

I will try to keep everyone up-to-date on this subject should anything new and exciting surface while I experiment more.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

It has been a while since I have been on and passing along my brand of cynical wit.  There has been a lot of stuff going on and it hasn't amounted to much, in many ways.

Today's topic concerns the beginning of the end of my business relationship with Time Warner Cable in Austin.  A year ago I got rid of my cable TV service because, even when I gave them a month to fix the problem, they could not resolve the reception issues in my neighborhood.  Macro-blocking and audio cutting out in the middle of programs is not what I consider usable service.  When I turned off my TV service, I told TW that my Internet service was working well, but if it started to function like the TV service I would not be giving them a month to resolve the problem.  I was hoping to never need to make good on that threat.

Right before I went on my trip to NY a month ago, my RoadRunner (cable-based Internet) service started to drop-out at various times for a minute or so.  If all you do is web browsing, this isn't too bad because the traffic is bursty and you may never notice.  However, if you're streaming audio or video or doing interactive terminal sessions or online games, as I am, then these interruptions cause whatever you're doing to just terminate.  When I got back from NY, I gave it a week or two to resolve (and replaced my cable modem) and finally decided to call TW to report a problem.  I could see the problems on the cable modem's error log, and I could see the same problems on my neighbor's cable modem.  I agreed to have TW send a technician to my house.

So the TW technician comes over and proceeds to snip the connectors off the cable lines in my house and re-terminate them, even though his test equipment reported no problems with the wiring.  In fact, my signal strength was too high.  So instead of installing a splitter to attenuate the signal in the wiring outside my jack, he removed the wall plate, snipped the already short coax cable down, and put the splitter behind the wall, insuring that to do anything else, I will need to remove that wall plate.  Wonderful (said with sarcasm).  Then he goes out to the outside box where all the neighbors are connected to the cable system, puts his equipment on there, and says, "Oh, here's the trouble.  This is definitely a line problem.  I will need to call my manager and have a line technician come out here because it's something in the neighborhood cabling."  Duh.  Isn't this what I've been saying?  Technician then says that the line techs should have the problem resolved within 2 days.  Fine.

Five days and 18 service interruptions later, I decide to call TW to find out what in heck is taking so much time to fix.  I find that the problem was never referred to the line techs, and now TW wants to send another technician to my house.  WTF!?  I explain again what the previous technician found and did, that it was not in my house, so it made no sense to send a technician to my house wasting my time and their's only to determine that it was an issue with the lines in the neighborhood, and that it would be a lot more efficient for them and me for them to start with their own wiring before coming to my house.  But, no, they can't do that...and I'm certainly not allowing yet another technician to visit my house.

This is the exact same sequence of events that I had when I told TW I was canceling my cable TV service a year ago.

As much as I despise at&t, I realized it was time, after five years of fairly good Internet service with Time Warner, to go back to at&t and get DSL again.  I say this with a lot of trepidation because I have been singing the praises of my Internet service for a while, but I know deep down that this is going to be an ongoing problem.  The fact is that there is something wrong with the cable TV infrastructure in this neighborhood, and TW would rather deny there is a problem than to fix it.  I'm tired of dealing with incompetence in this area.  I'm a network administrator responsible for a large network consisting of many routers, switches, and various servers.  If my infrastructure worked like this they'd fire me on the spot, with good reason.  Despite my issues with at&t's administrative BS, the DSL service they provided to me worked pretty well most of  the time.

Truth be told:  If you have good cable infrastructure in your neighborhood, RoadRunner is a good deal, for all the reasons I've mentioned in my previous postings.  On the flip side, Time Warner Austin has no desire to properly fix infrastructure that has problems, and would rather bellyache about declining cable subscriptions and people who allegedly use "disproportionate" Internet bandwidth on RoadRunner.  If you're in one of the areas with bad infrastructure, chances are that it will never get fixed, and you'll either need to tolerate crappy service or go with someone else.

Oh, and if any of you Time Warner people are reading this:  Please go to hell.  Go directly to hell.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect $200.  You had more than ample opportunity to keep my business.  Instead, you treated me like just another annoying customer.  I warned you repeatedly about the consequences of this behavior, and you decided to ignore me.  It's too late to make amends.  Good bye.

(last minute update)
A co-worker forwarded this to me, and I thought it was entirely apropos.  I suspect that if I called TW and said "shibboleet" they would send the padded wagon instead of forward me to a l33t t3ch...
http://xkcd.com/806/