Scott's Column
WiFi Repeater, XP SP2, Zuma

September 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

It has been a fun month. I had the chance to play around with some new hardware, and even discovered a new addictive game.

WiFi Repeater

A friend of mine bought Linksys' Wireless-G Range Expander (WRE54G). 

He had some trouble setting it up. He was going to return it to the store and had it with him at work. So he lent it to me to try and see if it would work with my Linksys based wireless network.

I took it home and plugged the box in and pressed the auto config button. This should work for a network that only has one access point and has WEP turned off. It should, but didn't. Time to break out the instructions. If you have more than one access point or WEP enabled you need to use the setup wizard to tell the Range Expander what signal to work with and how.

I installed the CD and used the wizard to try and connect to the Range Expander and tell it what network to connect to. The software never found the Range Expander. It did find my network once in a while and even found the Range Expander as a network one time. Weird. I tried playing around as much as I could. I even put all three components (laptop, range expander and router) in one room.

I noticed that I would get a blue/red blinking light on the range expander. I did some digging around on Linksys' web site. They claim that if you get a red light and are using one of three routers (I was using one of the three) that you need to update the firmware. So I downloaded the firmware upgrade for my router and installed it. No change. The range expander still had a red light. I left a message on Linksys' web site and I never heard back from them, even though I stated if I couldn't get the device working I was going to return it. That was a little white lie. Actually my friend was going to return it if he couldn't get it working. But I won't buy one if we can't get it working for him.

Broadband for Free

At this point we are going to cross the line the of ethics. My Friend had an out of town guest visit him with a laptop. His friend was able to find 4 WiFi networks at my friends house... none of which belong to my friend. Only one of the four had WEP enabled. Since my friend was still doing dial-up, he decided to try and see if he could just buy a WiFi adapter for his computer and "creatively acquire" broadband access for free.

This is what spurred the purchase of the range expander. He was getting a weak signal and his computer only manager to get on the internet a couple of times for a very brief period. I took my laptop over to my friend's house and I was easily able to see one of his neighbor's networks. When we tried to connect to any of the networks we were able to connect only to the access point, but not get out on the internet.

We tried a number of things. I tried removing his existing network from the device manager to get his computer (running Windows 2000 Professional) to create a network from scratch. We even tried uninstalling his firewall software in case that was the problem.

Ultimately nothing we did worked. And we managed to make things worse. His dial up connection would not work. I am bothered by this because I usually don't fail to get things working. But two straight hours of trying led to the conclusion that he needs to start over... from the installation of the operating system. Fortunately we both have the same philosophy when it comes to loading the OS... wipe the box of everything and load from scratch. My friend was very close to leaving for a vacation, so we left well enough alone. We started this exercise a couple of days after his wife finished her master's degree, so we wouldn't interfere with her work. He was looking for an excuse to wipe his PC anyway. And... as it turns out Microsoft released the "gold" version of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). Since we both have MSDN subscriptions it's just a matter of downloading the ISO and burning it to CD. I did this for him while he was on vacation. I did it for him to save him 60 - 100 hours downloaded an ISO image over a phone line... assuming he could get it working.

Next month I will tell you if he/we had any trouble getting his computer up and running with a broadband connection without the hassles of a monthly bill.

My own experience with the range expander and running my laptop at his house was that he won't need the range expander. It never worked, and I don't know what it would have taken to get it to work. If anyone has had experience with Linksys' range expander, please let me know. Apparently I will not be buying a range expander from Linksys anytime soon since it doesn't work with my equipment. Go figure. I will just have to suffer with 1 - 2 mbps performance out on my deck. Life is such a compromise.

Windows XP Service Pack 2

Microsoft released the final version of Windows XP Service Pack 2. I know, they will still be patching the heck out of it, so it is hardly final. But it is no longer a beta or release candidate. It is "gold" and Microsoft will support it in a "production environment" on "mission critical" equipment. O.K. That was a big mouthful of gunk.

All we care about is that XP SP2 is out of beta. I downloaded the ISO image as part of my MSDN subscription and burned it to a CD. I have been thinking about upgrading my main computer to run XP Pro as the main operating system.

At present I have three operating system on my computer. Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Professional (pre Service Pack 1). The default is Windows 2000 as part of the boot loader I use that is part of Partition Magic. I have only used Windows 98 three times in the last two years. I installed Turbo Tax 2002 under Windows 98 because of their activation and copy protection junk. I also installed Turbo Tax 2003 under Windows 98 as well even though they removed their copy protection/activation mess. I also needed to see how something in Windows 98 worked differently from Windows XP as my wife was trying to help her sister do something that worked for my wife on her laptop running Windows XP, but it would not run with her sister's computer running Windows 98. I discovered simply that what my wife was trying to do did not exist under Windows 98.

So, I have little to no use for Windows 98 anymore, and Windows XP is finally getting secure enough I might as well make the switch. However, there is a catch. I just bought a new game. It is called Zuma. Everyone in my family loves it. It is very simple and very addictive. You can find it at PopCap. They have an online version that you can play, and a download version that runs full screen. When you download/buy the game you must activate it when you install it. When I said my entire family likes this game, I am not kidding. As part of buying the game they allow you to "renew" it up to 5 times under your single purchase. Well, let's see. I installed it first on my mother-in-law's computer (we were over there when we decided we would buy it). I did the first renewal on my computer, the second on my wife's laptop and the third on my laptop. However two of my sister-in-law's also installed it which brings to total to 5 renewals. Now I don't have any renewals left to re-install it on my main machine again after I wipe it and install XP SP2. Oops!

I regret installing it on my laptop. I thought I would enjoy playing the game while lying in bed, but two things prevent that. 1) the game is very hard to play with a touch pad. You really need a mouse. 2) It is very slow on my laptop. This is weird. My desktop is a 1.7 GHz machine with integrated graphics. Not the best gaming machine. My laptop is 2.8 GHz, but the game runs slower. This may be partially to blame on the fact that I have the CPU power turned down on the laptop to prevent overheating issues. But it is mostly the mouse issue that makes the game a pain in the ass to play on the laptop. Both me and my wife now have to fight the kids for computer time on my desktop to play the game. We are both playing at the highest stage (we are on the 9th stage of 9 stages). There is just no way to play this click-fest game on a laptop.

I may have to buy the game again so I can install Windows XP as the permanent operating system on my computer.

We'll see. Until next month...