Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Better Living Through Constant Upgrades, or Ooops, fell off the treadmill!

Well, I "sorta" have internet at home again...
I'm online via my dial-up shell account at SDF, which I can access with all the computers I have here - from my lowly TRS-80s to my 2.8GHz Linux box. Of course, it's slow going, considering I only have a 28.8K external modem at the moment.
But hey, what do you want for free?
I haven't yet received the replacement PSU for my Sun Ultra 5, meaning I'm still hamstrung as far as my major project is concerned. In the meantime, I've been testing a few bits of hardware I've bought over the last year or so, as well as a few pieces I've had sitting in the lab for ages.


One of the more important pieces of kit that needed testing was this USB-ethernet transceiver that I bought for my Ultra 5's SunPCi card (a 400MHz PC on a PCI card!). Of course, I can't use the SunPCi card as it's in my "dormant" Ultra 5, so I hooked the USB-Ethernet transceiver up to my aforementioned Linux box, and was able to connect to the other Unix machines on my network. If nothing else, I know the transceiver works.
OK, so I'll have ethernet capabilities on my SunPCi card when the Ultra 5 is resurrected. I dug out my Windows 2000 cd, so I'll have a supported OS for it. Problem is, the SunPCi card only has one USB 1.0 port, meaning I can't use any other USB peripherals whilst the transceiver is in use. Unless, of course, I can find a USB 1.0 hub somewhere...
Guess what I found at the back of my "loose parts" cabinet?


Yup, my friend Slam's old ADS USB hub. He got the thing in a bulk lot of computer junk he bought on eBay many moon ago and truth told, we never got the thing to work, owing to lack of drivers. Out of morbid curiosity, I hooked it up to my Linux box, and the damned thing WORKED!

Son of a bitch!

NOW my interest is piqued... let's put it through its paces, shall we?  I took the USB-Ethernet transceiver out of the Linux box, and plugged it into the hub, fiddled with the ethernet settings, and was able to connect to another computer on my home network in seconds!

OK, how does it perform with a couple more devices? Plugged in my Bluetooth adapter, and my bluetooth mouse was detected almost instantly! So far, so good. Now, let's plug in my new USB 2.0 card reader... and now a 512Mb Compact Flash card, a 512Mb Secure Digital card, and a 64Mb Smartmedia card... Holy shit! All three cards opened up immediately in their own separate windows on my Linux desktop.





Ain't that neat?
I am summarily impressed. However, I'll wager I can wring even MORE performance from this ol' hub... it may only have three USB 1.0 slots (which I've just filled), but it also has serial and parallel ports!
The final test for the evening was to hook my 28.8K modem up to the hub's serial port, and use it to dial into my SDF shell account so I could write this update via email (which was obviously successful or you wouldn't be reading this). I mean hey, ya gotta do something to while away the hours on a cold, blustery evening - Winnipeg is experiencing it's first winter storm of the season!
It never ceases to amaze me as to what these ancient bits of hardware can be made to do, with a little ingenuity and a dose of good ol' fashioned curiosity. That's the true hacker spirit!
(Incidentally, until I restore my "real" home internet sometime next year, I can be reached at the email address listed in the tagline below.)
sparcipx@sdf.lonestar.org
SDF Public Access UNIX System - http://sdf.lonestar.org

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