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Fix Something Annoying

In Time Management for System Administrators, I write about setting up periodic processes: Things you want to do once a day, week, or year. My friend Joe recently pointed out something he does periodically:

Every week, find something that annoys you. Not "needs to be done" but annoys you. Honest to god, every time you do this you make your life better. And after a few times doing it, you feel stronger about it... and you start doing a better job of identifying the things you want in your life, and the things you don't.
That's excellent advice.

That's how I recently came to fix my home WiFi network. My network has a few components that didn't seem to be working right. At first I could work around the problems with an occasional reboot. However, the reboots were getting more frequent and eventually I was rebooting the router daily without even realizing how annoying it had gotten. I even had an Ethernet cable run across the floor (how ugly!) to one machine that I used frequently. My SO was rebooting the router too, which meant I was no longer able to track how frequently the reboots were needed.

There were other problems related to the fact that the DHCP server lost the list of DHCP allocations at each reboot and some of my home appliances didn't like being assigned a different address now and then. Sometimes this resulted in IP address conflicts any time the router rebooted.

Finally I canceled plans for one evening and replaced the router with a Linksys WRT-54GL. The "GL" model is hackable... you can replace the firmware with a Linux-based systems. There are many to choose from. I used the Tomato replacement firmware from PolarCloud (cost: free!) and it worked on the first try. (If you want something that provides a captive portal, I recommend CoovaAP). The web-based UI is excellent, with AJAX'y little features like being able to click on the IP address of a device instantly brings you to the page for giving that device a static DHCP assignment. Within a few days I had static assignments for both of my Tivos, both iPhones in the house, our WiFi-based HP printer, and, oh yes, and our computers too. I enabled some QoS settings and was delighted to find that the defaults are exactly what I needed (what? open source software with defaults that make sense? amazing!).

Today I realized I hadn't mucked with any WiFi system in a week... exactly my desire. One less annoying thing in my life. Thanks for the reminder, Joe!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

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