Geekery (do not read unless you’re sleepy)

I also got a new wireless access point (AP) which is working really well in the living room. I put the older (but still good one) upstairs, and I have two other older mesh network APs. The controller software gives me some really good realtime info as to who is connecting to what and what kind of connection they are getting. So the kids school connection (at least on our end) is better.

Got three new USB hubs for the girls chromebooks, so when connected in the play room they have connection to our wired network. Which – theoretically – is a better connection than the wireless. Which has led me down a rabbit hole…

But before I get there, I noticed that Savita’s chromebook would NOT connect to the wired network no matter what. Annika and Nora was fine, but her’s would stubbornly stay on the wifi. I played around with it for a while and noticed that hers would connect to Annika’s hub. Hrm. 20 minutes and many combinations later, suddenly her chromebook starts to work with her hub. But only if you put slight upward pressure on the port. Turns out that her usb-c connection is slightly wonky. Not for the power connection (which works fine), but if you use a USB hub and connect through that, then its finicky. Sigh.

So down the rabbit hole…

I was thinking that the wired connection in my house was the most efficient way to connect. My house was built in the late 90s, but there is a network jack in each room homebased downstairs. I have a server downstairs that’s our backup/Plex/Linux server. But it turns out that the wiring in the house is on a 100Mpbs network, not a Gigabit network (thats 1000Mpbs, so theoretically can be 10x faster.). Even though the external connection is limited to 200 (right now, going to upgrade to gigabit), that means internal network connections are also limited to 100Mpbs. (Which is okay, but not GRRRREAT. ). Even the APs are connected to the home backbone, which means that even if you get higher wireless speeds , the backside network connection is limited to 100Mpbs. My work computer is fine, because its connected directly to the router so I’m not limited. But considering how much more networking we’re doing with 3 students, and they are increasingly using LAN resources, wouldnt it be an interesting project to get us up to speed, so to speak?

Right? Famous last words..

First, I always though that the limitation was just the backbone. But apparently even though the house is wired as cat5, cat5 is capable of gigabit. Looking at the terminations on each end, it looks like the network is wired with only 2 twisted pairs, instead of the 4 necessary for gigabit. (The other 2 are used for telephone, which I only need in one room. So I can safely cannabilize that.) So I could theoretically unhook the wall jacks, wire a jack with the proper termination, do the same downstairs, and I’d be okay, right? I’d have to do that for every run to every room that I wanted a gigabit connection, but that’s doable.

The other limitation is my linux server (which is the file and Plex server where we watch movies and some TV). Apparently the onboard NIC is only capable of 10/100. Wah Wah. But wait, apparently when I built the thing I threw in a PCI LAN card that was capable of gigabit. Why didn’t I ever use it, duh? My Linux server has a VPN on it, and configured such that most network traffic comes straight through, while some traffic is covered by VPN. I figured out how to do that with iptables years ago, I’m afraid to touch that configuration because i’d have to delve back into that configuration again and figure out what I did. But getting a second NIC card working should be straightforward, right? For some reason Linux didnt have the drivers for it. So my first todo this evening was to get that card up and switch the configuration so that the primary NIC was that. Well, turns out that was easier said than done – this is an OLD NIC card (from 2006). Still should work, but apparently the drivers are problematic. I went ahead and tried to compile them, but doing so hosed both network connections. Right when the girls were wanting to watch something on Plex for their sleepover tonight. I told them that they had to watch something on Amazon. I had to stop to make dinner but after dinner finally got that back to where it was when I started, and ordered a new NIC card (10 bucks) that should work out of the box.

So I turned to the physical network connections. The network goes from my office (where the verizon router is) through the kids playroom to a network jack there, which goes to the basement, which is connected to the server and then distributed to the living room and the guest room, which have the wireless APs. So I figured I’d start with the connection in the playroom,. If I could rewire that jack, I’d be half way there because years ago I had rewired the other side of the jack in the basement. So I opened the panel and removed the wires from the phone and network port, and wired it to some new jacks I bought. Try lining up 8 tiny wires in a small channel while hunched under an elementary school desk – not fun. I got it done, plugged it in and… nope. No link light on the play room switch. Didnt work. Hrm. Well, apparently there are two ways to wire these things … something known as 568a and 568b. I wired it as 568a. I go downstairs and check… nope, the other side is wired as 568b. Fuck. So I undo what I do, and rewire it as 568b. 20 minutes later with camping hands, I plug it in. Nope, no link light.I go downstairs, no link light on that switch. So I think maybe I didnt wire the downstairs one completely right years ago. (Possible, since you only need 2 pairs for 100mphs lan). So I rewire that and – aha! Link light on the basement switch. Only 100 not 1000, but something. So I go upstairs and… no link light on the upstairs switch. Huh? WTF? Cue me rewiring both sides a few times, while the girls are getting more and more TV because Im too preoccupied to put them to bed. (“One more daddy?” “Sure. ONE MORE and then go to bed.”)

Finally., after 4 complete episodes of “Just Add Magic” (which they bitched and whined about stopping, because there was a cliffhanger, but it was 9:30), I put them to bed. Nora said she hated me and cried. Kissed the other two (and then her even though she said she didnt want any kisses) and then headed back into the breech. At this point, I have no wireless in the house because the jack in the playroom connects the whole house to the router. Great. Thinking, I said “Aha!” Okay, I’ll hardwire the Living room to the playroom. Since there’s a jack in the LR that goes to the basement, if I connect the network through there, I not only get the house back on line, my AP in the living room will have gigabit. So I cannibalize a 25 feet of ethernet cord from the AP in my office (which is kinda sparsely used anyway) and find my drill, and I drill a hole from the playroom to the living room. Drill bit not long enough, until I find a 2 FOOT drill bit. (Cue gorilla sounds). Went upstairs to find a wire hanger (dont worry honey, I’ll pick up the suit off the ground tomorrow) and fished the wire from the LR to the play room. Connected it to the switch in the LR, and .. amber light. No gigabit connection, 100Mpbs connection. WHAT? I look at the switch that I have in the LR and… it’s not a gigabit switch. Its a 10/100 switch. Fuck. So I remember I have an extra older switch upstairs … in the guest room. Where the kids are sleeping. I go and sneak in and get it (nobody woke up) and then try to replace the switch in the LR. But the electric portion is a MESS behind the console, and there’s no easy way to get at it. So I spent 20 minutes trying to untangle the knot behind there (fire hazard, for sure). I undid the knot enough to unplug the switch, vowed to straighten the rest out tomorrow. Replaced the switch with the gigabit switch and went back to the playroom to see.

No LIGHT AT ALL. WTF?

I went back and put in the old 10/100 switch. Amber light in the play room. So whats going on? I put the newer gigabit switch in the playroom, and get a green light (THIS switch doesnt tell you by light if its 100 or 1000, just that you have a connection. And that swtich – switch B, lets call it, looks EXACTLY THE SAME as switch A (original gigabit switch in the playroom.) They have the same model number too – just bought years apart. (Just to make it interesting). What? I play with the switches and switch them back and forth. Thought that switch A was defective, but then I left switch B in thinking that everything would work – the light was on, but there was no active connection on those ports. (Couldnt reach my server). So switch B was defective? Maybe. I left switch A and the original 10/100 switch in the LR so everything works at least, even if at the end of the day I AM IN THE SAME EXACT SPOT I WAS WHEN I STARTED.

I ordered a new switch and a network tester to see where my wiring went wrong from Amazon. Hopefully I’ll figure this all out tomorrow.

I am leaving out all the little things, like leaving various tools in different rooms as I wonder around, spending umpteen minutes looking for the wire strippers which I had put on the upstairs chair while putting the kids to sleep. Then looking for a network tester that I KNOW I bought 8-9 years ago. I can picture it in my minds eye, but its in none of the places it should be (ordered another one, and I know I’ll find the old one before it comes. Fine, Amazon has a good return policy). Or looking for the drill bit because the first 3 I selected were barely two short to reach into the other wall. The play room is a mess, the living room is a mess, its 12:30am and I never got that beer I wanted to start with at 7:30.

So, actually it was a fun night. A couple hours not thinking of COVID, or the election, or the passing of RBG. That’ll all be there tomorrow. I’ll be dreaming of amber and green lights tonight.

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