suffer snapped spaghetti straps
Thursday, April 29 2004
The best part of springtime only lasts a couple weeks and then it's over. Fresh green leaves are reduced by caterpillars zig zagging along their margins. Flowers whither and brown atop masses of seeds. Weak baby birds are pushed from their nests. Sexy spring fashions from J.C Penny suffer snapped spaghetti straps and are replaced with teeshirts promoting the brands of multinational corporations. Summer isn't just unpleasantly hot, it's also prematurely old and ugly.
So I felt a little bad today for having slept through a perfect spring afternoon. But I couldn't help myself. I'd somehow developed a slight sleep deficit, and a relatively uneventful noontime housecall overwhelmed my ambitions, such as they were, with a ravenous hunger for sleep.
Since I install so much network equipment, I find it useful to pre-order it and have it in stock for occasions when a client needs me to wire a house. This benefits my household enormously, because I can sample various routers and settle on a good one for myself. Today I tried out the Compex NetPassage 26G, an 802.11g wireless router that features two USB ports for attaching, so the advertising tells me, a printer and a webcam. This is a great feature because it would allow me to put a webcam or printer in some random place far away from a host computer (for example: up a tree). But when I opened up the box, I could find nothing in any of the documentation about how to access a webcam attached to this router. Worse still, there wasn't even any useful webcam information on the Compex website. After reading a bunch of web reviews, I learned that the webcam hosting functionality could only be activated by flashing a particular firmware (available from the Compex website). But the problem with using this firmware was that it didn't support any of the NetPassage 26G's router functions. I also learned (after some experimentation) that the webcam firmware didn't support the 26G's wireless functions either. They're the most important functions it has! I don't know much about Compex, but encountering such shoddy support and poorly-delivered features would have made me laugh had they not consumed so much of my time. This feeling was reinforced by several serious typos in the text lithographed on the NetPassage 26G's packaging.
Like all routers, the NetPassage 26G is actually a small embedded computer. I'm very interested in the idea of reflashing routers with various customized Linux operating systems, and a machine like the 26G seems ideal for a wide range of embedded tasks requiring external USB hardware. I've already opened up the 26G and found a mysterious row of pins on the 26G's motherboard. I also noted its WiFi functionality came on an internal PCMCIA card that could theoretically be replaced with other cards. But I have no idea what OS the 26G is running or how to hack what is there. I couldn't find any open ports that would let me Telnet in and raise a ruckus. I was a little surprised to discover that the web pages it served for its configuration website (hosted internally in its little embedded brain) have .asp extensions. This suggests that they're being served by a Microsoft IIS server. I wasn't aware that there were embedded versions of IIS - it doesn't seem like a sufficiently reliable web backend for that kind of work. Also, IIS requires a bit more processing power than a stripped-down version of Apache (the technology that drives an embedded Linux router's web server). Perhaps this explains why the NetPassage 26G runs so much hotter than any other wireless router I've ever tested.
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