wireless hell (3) & new hardware

After the zillionth crash I’ve given up. I managed to get the freezing down to once every few hours but it’s not good enough. I just got the good old cat 5 cable out of the closet and connected the pc to the cable modem the old fashioned way. That seems to work very nicely. I can still use the wireless connection with my laptop from work.

Naturally, I’ll take the siemens gigaset usb stick 108 crap back to the store. See what happens. If you’ve googled for that piece of shit and read my blog posts: don’t buy it or if you bought it, trade it in for a different brand. I’ve updated everything: drivers (kt400 chipset, wlan), bios. Nothing seems to work and the pc consistently not crashes without the usb stick. It might be a compatibility problem with my motherboard, it might be faulty hardware, it might be crappy siemens drivers. My guess is the latter.

Now the only problem is the cable connection itself. That too is not working to well. I’ve had several disconnects already. The online led just goes off and the modem tries to reconnect for a while, which, so far, it manages to do after fifteen minutes or so. I suspect the cable signal isn’t to good. This is an old building after all.

I almost ordered a new PC last friday. Unfortunately the video card I wanted had to be ordered and the guy from bt-mikro (right across the street) couldn’t guarantee he’d have it within a reasonable time frame so he recommended me not to order right away. Otherwise the setup seems nice: dual core amd 4400+ with an octek motherboard, 2 GB of memory, a nice 300GB disk, a samsung 204TS 20″ lcd screen and logitech mouse and keyboard (wired, I’ve had enough of this wireless shit). I’ll buy it when the video card is available again: a nvidia 7800 GT card. This card (and it’s slightly heavier brother the gtx) seem to be the card to have at the moment.

That should keep me happy for a few years. My current geforce 4200 still works very nicely despite its age. I recently played doom3 on it with reasonable framerates and some of the eyecandy turned off.

Update: hardware has been ordered now 🙂

X-plane Global Scenery

A few months ago I posted a review of x-plane and compared it with ms flightsimulator. My conclusion was that while x-plane is technically superior, ms flightsimulator looks better because of the quality of the included scenery with ms flightsimulator and the lack of proper v8 scenery for x-plane.

Well, they fixed the problem:
Global Scenery. The people from global-scenery.org have processed terrabytes of information from all sorts of sources and have come up with a mostly autogenerated scenery pack for x-plane of close to 60GB. It ships on 7 (seven!) dvds. Check out the screenshots. It’s advertised as the most detailed scenery, ever. I believe they might be right … for auto generated scenery.

You can get scenery for ms flight simulator based on the same data for some areas. But here the technical differences enable x-plane to draw far prettier landscape then ms flightsimulator. Of course ms flightsimulator also has lots of non autogen scenery with e.g. the statue of liberty and the empire state building looking more or less recognizable when you fly over New York. X-plane on the other hand has lots of buildings of more or less the appropriate height aligned with the very detailed roads it generates from actual map data. In other words, you’ll see every block in manhattan with buildings inside them. The result definately looks like New York.

I’m planning to buy this software as soon as I have a new PC. I’ve had lots of fun with x-plane already. My current hardware is too old to properly enjoy all this new stuff but I will make sure the replacement will run this stuff well.

Oh yeah, this is just a 1.0. More features (3d forests, more planet surface, custom objects) are planned.

wireless hell (2)

The story below has gotten a little long so I’ll summarize for the benefit of those with similar problems:

I applied various solutions to the connectivity and stability problems I encountered:

  • My PC froze up every half hour. This required a reboot and then unplug/replug the usb stick and then repair the connection.
  • I noticed gaim reconnected every few minutes. Connection was marked as good and then it was suddenly dropped.
  • Sometimes my router could not be found at all and then one minute later it had an ‘excellent’ connection

Here are the solutions I applied:

  • Look for firmware upgrade. In my case there wasn’t any but if there is this may be your solution
  • Look for driver updates for your wireless card/usb stick. Generally the software on the cd is obsolete. This applies to any hardware you buy.
  • See if you can live without the wireless monitor thing that was installed along with the driver.
    • Uninstall the software and driver
    • make sure you have the (downloaded) driver somewhere on disk
    • reboot
    • windows may recognize your usb stick on boot, opt to select the driver yourself and then to locate the driver yourself
    • If windows does not detect your hardware, go to control panel-systems-device manager. Likely there is an exclamation mark at the icon of the device. You can fix the problem by rightclicking, properties and then install the new driver. Alternatively you can use the find new hardware wizard.
    • If all goes well, you can now configure your wireless connection through the default windows wizard. It is less feature rich than your monitor app, which is just fine if all you want is a network connection.
    • Some of the more advanced/non-standard features may not be available to you. Most notably, non standard speeds such as 108mbps. This does not really as matter as much as you might think since those speeds are based on compression rather than actual bits. Hard to compress data like multimedia, photos and compressed binaries do not really benefit that much from this network layer compression.
  • You may have disabled upnp in the past. In it self this is a good thing because you probably don’t need it. Unfortunately, in my case the driver depends on this service. So, go to control panel-administrative tools-services and set the upnp service from disabled to automatic (this means it will start if it is required).
  • If connectivity problems remain the reason may be interference from other devices. Most wifi cards default to channel 1 (this is a busy channel). Depending on where you live you may select from 11 or 13 channels. Some of these channels have overlapping frequencies. Channels 1, 6 and 11 do not overlap. You can configure the channel on your router and may need to configure it elsewhere to. I set the channel to 11 and the number of disconnects has dropped substantially.
  • Figure out type and brand of the faulty hardware (and possibly of the chipset in that hardware) and google for your problem. Likely you will find this site if you have the same hardware as me: a motorola sbg900e cable modem and a siemens gigaset 108 usb wlan stick. You may find it useful anyway even if you don’t have the same hardware.

This more or less solved my problems. I still encounter the occasional disconnect. But it now reconnects immediately, by itself. A smart download manager, gaim and most media players should survive the brief disconnect without intervention.

If the above does not solve your problem, bring back the hardware to the store and change it for a different brand. Seriously, having to go through all of the above constitutes a really bad end user experience. Things are definately not working as advertised and you are entitled to complain, loudly! Most shop people are totally incompetent so be understanding of their ignorance but insist on a replacement or refund. Don’t accept the same brand unless you are sure you had a hardware failure. If you do so anyway, make a deal with the shop that if the replacement doesn’t work either he’ll refund.

If someone from Siemens reads this: you people suck. Your software is absolute crap and you know it.

wireless hell

This wireless shit is absolute crap. This is the second time I’m setting up a wireless network. The first time was for my father. He’d bought a wireless adsl router (smc) and a usb stick. It didn’t work. So he brought back the stick and got one from another brand (my advice). It sort of worked but the connection was very poor. So far he’d been doing stuff by the book (he knows nothing about computers) and then he called in me. First action: remove the crappy software from the previous stick. That didn’t work (the uninstaller is broken) but at least the connection was a bit more consistent now since the old software no longer intervened. Second action replace the driver for the new stick, no improvement but it made me feel better. Third action: replace the firmware of the router. That worked! Suddenly the connection was fine and it has been ever since. Conclusion: the router software was crap and the first usb stick was crap. More importantly, the manufacturer of the router knew it was crap and silently fixed the problem and released an update. Thousands of it’s customers must still be getting a really lousy end user experience. Getting this setup to work required non trivial intervention that no normal consumer would ever figure out. BTW. the troubleshooting material, website and documentation were like the software: poorly written crap.

Now fast forward to 2005. I’m buying a wireless router and a usb stick. I know I am in for trouble. But I’m an optimist so I RTFM, sit back and watch the thing install. First sign of trouble: the widgets of the wlan monitor look like the thing has been written in ancient pascal. These old borland applications had a distinctively looking, shitty look and feel that dates back to 16 bit windows. I’ve seen several such applications in my life and I now associate this look and feel with poor quality software that is extremely likely to crash, hard. Had a screenshot of this software been displayed on the box, I would have left it on the shelf. But the connection sort of worked so I leave it alone. Second sign of trouble, I now have an Odyssey thingy ontop of the tcp thingy in my network properties from an obscure company by the name of funk.com. Two layers of crappy software is like asking for trouble. It claims to do stuff with security.

Then an hour later my mouse stops moving, the system is frozen. My pc has some stability issues (cpu overheats) so I do not directly suspect the usb stick, yet. I reset. Hey the wireless network icon is missing and the monitor icon is greyed out. Hmmm. What could be wrong here? Power cycle, same thing happens again. No connection. It’s plug and play so I (un) plug and pray. Now the wireless icon reappears but this time with a nice red cross. Improvement! Right click, repair connection. And we’re back in business. That’s some nasty bugs down there. Just to be sure I downloaded the latest driver from siemens. The well hidden changelog mentions some ‘installation issues’ were fixed, yeah right. Confusing website too.

Half an hour later it happens again exact same scenario. And then again. Also I notice that GAIM keeps reconnecting every few minutes. Now I’m getting suspicious and zoom in on the monitor application: it looks like crap so it probably is crap. So uninstall the entire wireless software (monitor, funky odyssey + driver), plug and pray, and this time manually install only the driver when windows ‘detects the new hardware’. Let the windows wireless wizard thingy do it it’s thing (that’s crappy too but at least it looks like it was written this century). I seem to be back in business, for now. At least long enough to write this text. I’ll keep you posted. If it doesn’t stay online until tonight I’m bringing back this heap of smelly crap to the store.

Lesson learned: when installing wireless lan, don’t touch any of the cds that come with it. Download the latest driver, install it through the software that comes with windows and minimize the number of external software components.

UPDATE. It appears I’ve not solved the issue yet. Uptime has improved somewhat (up to 2.5 hours) but it still disconnects at random, has trouble finding my router and hangs very often. I’ve also upgraded the chipset software. The router firmware seems to be the latest version (at least, motorola doesn’t offer any upgrades). I’ve now disabled wep encryption. In other words, I’m running out of options. :-(. If this doesn’t do the trick, nothing will.

UPDATE 2. I enabled the upnp service. Seems to be working, I’ve been online for 4.5 hours now. Could this be it?

UPDATE 3. No computer freezes today. I did lose the connection a couple of times. I understand that wifi cards can operate at different channels and that channel 1 (default), 6 an 11 use different frequency ranges. I’m in an apartmentblock with several wifi routers in range and who knows what other equipment. So I changed the channel to 11. I suspect interference is part of the problem.

Now I’m really online

After the inevitable slight obstacle, I now have my home pc connected. The nokia laptop is totally locked down and hence not much fun (I have admin rights but I’d rather not piss off the sysadmins at Nokia).

Getting internet here is really simple. In NL this is a tedious process involving lots of waiting, making several phone calls to some idiot at a call center and then (fingers crossed) it should work. Here it goes as follows:

  1. go to the welho shop (or try your luck on the phone)
  2. sign contract, pick up motorola wireless router
  3. go home
  4. connect the thing to the cable connection
  5. configure your wireless adapter to use the connection
  6. done!

Of course that’s the theory. In this nice old apartment block I can choose from two connections: a nice little official looking cable connection and a cable coming in at the frontdoor and ending somewhere in my living room. The latter works, the first one doesn’t have any signal. That took a while to figure out. The connection on the wall is dead as a doornail. The loose cable does internet (and lovely finish television), doh!

Also RTFM before enabling WEP encryption. I actually managed to lock myself out of my modem. But that’s what reset buttons are for :-).

online, sort of

I started work at Nokia yesterday and I’ve got a nice laptop and a phone! So I am back online. My new phone number is:
+358-50-4869193

Also I managed to find an apartment in Helsinki. I’m going to live at
Mechelininkatu 18 A 26
00100 Helsinki, Finland

The apartment is still empty of course but I have the keys and a sleeping bag so I’ll have to camp there until the 12th (then my stuff arrives).