Mac Lab Report

Netgear, Comcast, Apple, and Clock Batteries

- 2003.09.11

In a previous article (Three Domains, Two Buyouts, One Frustrated Customer), I detailed how my ISP changed hands several times, winding up at Comcast, and how my router from Netgear refused to work with it. I still am not happy with Comcast (less service for more bucks), but it turns out the problem I had was with Netgear, not Comcast.

As pointed out by reader Steve Goodwin (by way of Slashdot), the problem was really that Netgear tried to shave some costs of its low-end routers by removing the onboard clock's battery. Routers require accurate time clocks to request IP addresses from DHCP servers, so Netgear had the router request the time from a public time server in Wisconsin, as detailed in Flawed Routers Flood University of Wisconsin Internet Time Server.

Netgear promised a firmware update by the end of June, but the update for my version (the RP 614) didn't arrive until the end of August. I applied it and had that sensation you get when you work for days trying to fix something and discover that it was something simple all along - relief mixed with mild indigestion and lightheadedness.

Even though it wasn't my fault, this problem had me thinking that I wasn't doing something right, and it was driving me crazy trying to figure it out what it was.

I write these columns to share what I've learned in my tech adventures. Here is what I learned from this experience.

  1. When you call tech support, tell them you have a PC even if you don't.
  2. When you download a firmware update from Netgear, it does not require decompression. It's ready to upload as soon as you save the file. Do not waste 45 minutes trying to decompress it.
  3. Don't buy products that don't have internal batteries or a way to manually set the clock.
  4. The thing that distinguishes technogeeks from the rest of society is that technogeeks have absolutely no idea when to give up a project as a bad job. This unswerving fanaticism towards problem solving occasionally pays off, providing just enough positive reinforcement to make the time investment seem worthwhile.
  5. If you disconnect from a cable company for 24 hours, it will forget you were connected in the first place, a convenient fact for preparing a router for spoofing a MAC address.
  6. MAC is not Mac.

Anyway, I'll conclude with this: We have a bunch of iBook carts that contain two fatal flaws:

  1. iBooks do not have internal batteries for when the main battery dies.
  2. Early snow iBooks have loose power supply inputs.
  3. Hockey puck power supplies fail frequently at the joint you cannot reach inside the power supply because there is no strain relief there.

These flaws are present simultaneously and are consequently a real pain in the neck. I think I've found a source for the internal power supply boards. More on this later.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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