I Give Up – It’s Time To Take the Path of Least Resistance.

My research into the networking problems that I am having hasn’t been encouraging.  I thought that I was approaching a solution – something in the software configuration of the computers, or maybe a missing protocol, etc.  Eventually, I made my way to a Gateway support document that indicated that there is an issue regarding Windows ME computers running multiple network adaptors (in my case, wireless network card and 1394 network card) not being able to access resources on a Microsoft home network.  Apparently, I can either disable my firewire card, or sit on the phone with Microsoft support in order to obtain their “hot fix” (I pay for the support, of course).

Considering that Windows ME was obsolete even before its’ release, and that Microsoft is abandoning support for the product soon (I believe June ’06),  I thought that the simplest solution would be to upgrade to Windows XP.  I thought that having two XP systems would make it easier for a networking neophyte like myself to set up the network.  So I surfed over to MS to download their XP Upgrade Adviser.  After downloading this utility (32MB – thank goodness for broadband) and running it, I discovered that my photolab computer had numerous upgrade issues with XP.  That, along with numerous other issues regarding either Windows ME or the Gateway system (fails to boot or shut down properly, HDD is showing signs of eminent failure with intermittent squealing, among others), made me decide that the best, simplest, and probably cheapest solution in the long run was to buy a new computer with XP preloaded.

So yesterday I did some shopping – Thursday I’m expecting delivery of my new HP Slimline s7320n Media Center PC.  It’s amazing to me what you get nowadays for $500 – 1GB RAM, 1MB L2 cache, 200GB SATA hard drive, LightScribe Dual-Layer DVD burner, comprehensive software suite, etc.   It makes me think back to some of my past computer purchases;  DEC Rainbow 100 computer – $3500,  10 MB HDD for my DEC Rainbow – $2500,  15″ monochrome monitor for Rainbow – $1500.   Back then, you did not get software bundled with your new system.  I recall spending over $500 alone on 3 pieces of software: Digital Research’s CP/M, Microsoft’s MSDOS, and a very early Microsoft attempt at a spreadsheet called Multiplan.  Later on, for my IBM PC, I purchased a 2400 baud (yes, that’s 2400 bits per second) Hayes modem for $500 – imagine downloading a 32MB file with that! How about a dual-cartridge Bernoulli Box (20MB x 2) for $2000?  I can’t even remember how much the 20MB cartridges cost, but I do remember that they were about the size of a textbook!

I am feeling very excited about getting my network going – I just hope I am not being overly confident about easily setting up the network.  I’ll post my results soon.

We Sure Needed Some Rainfall

We have been experiencing a moderate draught here in the Ozarks this fall and winter, so yesterdays rain was greatly welcomed.  We probably received about an inch of rain (I’m not sure – I accidentally left our rain gauges out in sub-freezing weather with water in them, and they froze and cracked).  What I would like to see are a couple of gully-washers, in order to flush out our creeks and top off our ponds.  After the rains, George and I had to sit a spell and admire a pretty rainbow.

Rainbow5.jpg

Rainbow6.jpg

Interesting DRM Article by David Byrne (Talking Heads)

I ran across this interesting post by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) on his blog.  Seems that copy protection will always be an issue.  This sucks.  As it is, I can’t legitimately download purchased music from MSN Music or Walmart.com (see earlier post).  Now, it looks as if I might not want to even bother buying CDs, if they are going to trash my disk drive when I load them onto my computer. 

It’s Back to Work!

Since registering for a domain name and signing up for a web host (Dreamhost), I have found my self in front of the computer for days on end.  Learning about setting up services on the server, FTP programs, HTML code, blogging software, photo gallery software, etc. has been very time consuming.   Switching over from ISDN to satellite broadband, and my continued attempts at networking my computers has also taken it’s share of time.  Then, reviewing and uploading photos to the gallery, and writing posts to the blog are time eaters also.  All this has come at the expense of ranch projects, so I’m back off to work now!

Yesterday was unseasonably warm here in the Ozarks, so I took the opportunity to drain, clean, and refill the hot tub.  Today, I worked on a winter-long project of “parkizing” (def: taking an area of land, and making it look like a park) a stretch of creek that runs for about a mile through our property.  This has been a very physical project, involving lots of chain saw and tractor work, but mostly a lot of heavy lifting and hauling.

Retta pointed out a low and dangerous limb from a locust tree that was intruding into one of her riding trails, and ask me to remove it.  The thorns of these trees are wicked – I can’t count the number of flat tires I have fixed on my tractor as a result of these trees.  The only redeeming feature to them is that deer love to eat the seedpods from honey locusts.

Honey Locust thorns are massive and strong

Even though the deer like them, there are several located around the horse paddock that I will have to remove.  I will probably just cut them up and burn them where they now stand, as handling them is difficult and dangerous.

“Living Room of the Future” Podcast from MSDN Channel 9

Jeff Henshaw and David Alles of Microsoft discuss the Living Room of the Future in this interesting podcast from MSDN Channel 9.  The subject is the use of MS X-Box 360 as a media center extender.  For anyone who had been considering buying a Media Center Extender from Linksys to compliment their Media Center computer, this should be a must see. 

There is also a good review (here) about XBox 360 and how it relates to Media Center computers on the Supersite for Windows.  Now that MS has included HD wireless streaming into the equation, everything changes.  This device might just be in my future when I take the plunge and upgrade to HDTV – hopefully in the near future.

Hitting a Brick Wall With My Networking Problem

Linksys WRT54G.jpg         Linksys Wireless PCI.jpg

I am narrowing the list of possible culprits in my continuing network setup problem.  It appears that the router is working correctly, and that the wireless and PCI network cards are also working correctly.  Here is what I can successfully accomplish:

I can browse the internet from my upstairs photo lab computer, via the wireless card upstairs and the router/access point downstairs in my office.  So, the two wireless portions of the network appear to be working together fine. 

I can browse the internet from my downstairs office computer, via the PCI card hard-wired to the router/access point.  So the hard-wired portion of the network seems to be fine.

From the office computer I can successfully ping the photo lab computer by its IP address, but when I try to ping by its computer name (PHOTOLAB), it fails.

From the photo lab computer I can successfully ping the office computer by its IP address, but when I try to ping by its computer name (OFFICE), it fails.

Office computer = Windows XP SP2 Media Center Edition (XP Pro without the ability to join domains).

Photo lab computer = Windows ME

I have run the Home Networking Wizard on both computers,  and have verified that both share the same workgroup name (MSHOME).

File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks is installed on both systems, and activated on both systems.

Both network adaptors are running TCP/IP protocols.

Client for Microsoft Windows Network is installed on both computers, and is the primary windows logon for both computers.

Copy Protection Stymies an Honest User Yet Once Again

     I remember back when Lotus 1-2-3 was the reigning king of the hill in the software world.  They implemented a crazy copy protection scheme which allowed for three installs from the floppy distribution disks onto your hard drive. If you used up your three allotted installs you were forced to undergo the hassle of finding and inserting the Lotus Floppy Disk-A into the disk drive in order to start the program.  You can imagine the grief this caused, especially when my hard disk controller board started going south, causing me to reload all my software repeatedly.  Pretty soon, of course, hacks to the Lotus copy protection scheme began surfacing on BBS’s across the country (here is an example).  Eventually, a commercial product began to be sold to simplify the hack process, and ultimately, a PC card was sold exclusively for the purpose of circumventing the Lotus copy protection scheme.  So honest folks (or suckers) like me who paid their licensing fee and abide by the terms of the license agreement were penalized.  And the pirates were still pirating, thanks to the hardware and software hacks.

     What does this have to do with Windows XP Media Center?  Well, having a Media Center PC spurred me into loading all of my CDs onto the computer.  Having instant access to all of my music, and being able to pipe it through my home stereo system turned out to be awesome.  With the IR blaster functions of Media Center, I can control the entire listening session from anywhere, and I have access to unlimited playlists, album, artist and song info on display, cool visualizations synched to the music displaying on my TV screen, etc.  It has made me re-appreciate my music collection.

     I have never jumped on the Napster or other PTP file sharing bandwagons.  If I wanted music, I would buy a CD.  Now that I have broadband, and now that you can buy music on-line legitimately for $.88/song, I thought I would start buying some music from Wal-Mart.  As an experiment, I purchased 4 songs from Walmart.com and downloaded them.  When I tried to play the songs, I discovered that they would not play.  Some kind of message to the effect that my computer was “not the valid computer for this license” or some such nonsense.

   So I went to MSN.MUSIC and tried buy a song from them – MSN wouldn’t even let my complete the transaction,  claiming that my DRM (Digital Rights Management) files were corrupt.  Anyhow, after much research I discovered that the problem I was experiencing was due to the fact that I had disabled the Pentium4 Hyper-threading feature in my system BIOS, and that Microsoft DRM (AKA- copy protection) scheme requires a static BIOS configuration in order to work.  According to Microsoft Knowledge Base article KB891664 that I obtained, the work around for this was for me to re-enable hyper-threading in the BIOS.

    I re-enabled hyper-threading and Voila, the music that I had bought from Walmart.com now would play.   But that did not take into account the reason why I had disabled hyper-threading in the first place.  When I first bought this Media Center PC, I soon discovered that after watching or recording about 15 minutes of television programming, the display would just freeze up.  After agonizing long hours with Gateway, ATI, and Microsoft, it was determined that hyper-threading was causing the display freeze problem.  The only solution – turn off hyper-threading.  I did, and the television functions of MCE2005 now worked perfectly.

   So now I am back to where I started with this post – once again the honest user gets screwed.  I buy a computer with Windows XP Media Center Edition and Microsoft tells me that I have to disable hyper-threading to make it work.  But in utilizing this solution, I also have to give up my ability to purchase music on-line in a legitimate manner, due to the DRM scheme Microsoft has implemented.  Meanwhile, the music pirates have not been deterred by Microsoft’s DRM, they are still busy as ever, distributing bootleg music files.

End of rant.