Monday, November 08, 2010

Saving Private Router - the next generation.

Time sure does fly, about a year ago I wrote about Saving Private Router and my effort to resurrect an old router that I had that died. Through laborious debugging I figured out it was the pesky power supply and purchased a replacement power supply that saved me moolah and gave me a "Housian" moment of where I figured out the puzzle. Not to mention I liked the fact that I had a print server in the bugger that I didn't want to lose.

Well recently I had another discovery moment where I had incorrectly blamed the nameless AT&T for slow speeds on my DSL. Through some random digital spelunking, I figured out that it was not my DSL that was slow, but that my router was in fact the culprit. I was about to buy a new router when I realized that I had an old router that I picked up to do some science experiments.

There is a class of computer hardware that is imminently "hackable" where you can take the body and do a brain transplant and give it an entirely new personality. Well you can do this with the fondly loved Linksys nee Cisco WRT54G router. You can take a plain jane, vanilla off the shelf home appliance and turbocharge it to do things that you probably won't use but hey ain't it cool that you can squeeze out every little bit of functionality out of the litter bugger. Well that's what this device is known for, it's basically "Geek stock car tinkering" just on something not so loud.

Well I had done a brain transplant and played around with the funky firmware of the dd-wrt and made it so overwhelmingly busy that it ended up being really slow. But it did a lot of stuff really slow. In this state of overwhelmedness, the router was "fun" but it really wasn't useful so I decided to resurrect it to the factory brain, erhm "flash". I looked up on the internet how to do it and gave it a try, punched a few things into my computer keyboard, and rebooted the litter sucker and what did I get.... crickets..... The industry term for this is "I bricked it" for you turned something that worked into the functional equivalent of a brick.

Whoops.....A little more "magic eight balling" of the internet and asking "Can I fix this" hit enter, flip over the computer and the answer was "answer hazy...try this..." OK, I basically figured out a way to check the pulse of the device and we got a faint one... It lives...barely. This is the best way to make a nerd completely non-functional. Give him a puzzle where there looks to be an answer and off to zone land.....ended up late for an appointment, completely non-functional like the little bugger..."hello Charles, did you hear what I was saying" "did you say something? oh sorry but you know I didn't try that method" and looking up, eyes glazed over. That dinner was a wash. Oh well, after some efforts and some relentless plugging along, I applied metaphorical paddles to the little bugger and went "clear!!!!" beep....beep....beep. It's ALIVE. Really ALIVE. Somehow I wasted four house of my life, alienated a friend to save $50. But that's now the point...

The point is that most things that we think are broken, really aren't broken but can be fixed. With effort. But the economic calculus of pricing your time vs replacing it. That's sort of saying you know my kid's sort of not that great, honey let's put a little Marvin Gaye on the stereo and you know in 9 months we can have a brand new kid to replace the broken one.

The entertainment value of an old Atari 2600 is motivating my friend to try to fix the one from his mother's house so he can show his kids what use to be cool. Thank god they are not teenagers and haven't figured out how to roll their eyes. But you know they were fun. Tetris still rocks.

So the battle continues, what to do with the old technology that lies in our midst. Do we use it as landfills, maybe use them as real bricks (could you make a house built out of old electronics as walls? -- a little too toxic?) Can you give brain transplants to the device to keep them going? Well the answer is maybe?

I just upgraded my old PC to some new Windows 7 goodness, being in the biz as they say I relented and said sure I'll upgrade and it was cheaper than buying a new computer. Amazingly my computer was capable of that yumminess known as 64 bit, so I said hey it'll be more efficient. Do it. Well that efficiency meant that some of the things like my scanner, my stereo effects box among other pieces of hardware stopped working with the new and improved computer.

What's funny is that this reminds me of the classic Diderot's "Regrets on Parting with my old Dressing Gown" in where the philosopher Diderot upon receiving a gift of a new dressing gown, feels the compulsion to upgrade everything else to match the elegance of the new dressing gown. Oh will my scanner be hip enough for my new operating system.

But this does not have to be the case, if manufacturers when they cease to support their antiquated hardware published the specs and information about the old devices to let industrious (and probably under-entertained and under-distracted) souls rewrite the brains of those devices and make the old work with the new. It'd be like living in Cuba where the old cars run and you look at the engines and the engines are clever combination of parts to make them work.

I don't think the engines of commerce would shut down. So let's figure out a way to keep using the old, because it might force us to really think of something new, not just tweaking the old to make it feel new.


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