Sunday, July 29, 2007


One year after getting myself a laptop, I decided that it was high time I started treating it as one, instead of shackling it to my table in order to stay connected to the Internet. Here are some insights and lessons learnt from my attempt to free the laptop:
  1. Wireless routers are a Good Thing, even if you screw up and don't get a modem/router combo and end up having no USB slot on the router to stick your old, tried and tested ADSL modem into.

  2. Setting up wireless networking in Windows is a breeze. Not so in Linux (well, Ubuntu at least; much easier in Suse). I still haven't managed to get the ipw220 driver in 2.6.20 to connect to the router without hanging the machine, forcing me to fall back to 2.6.17.

  3. Laptops come with a button for switching off the radio/wireless. This is to conserve battery power. Pay more attention to the output of tools like iwconfig. When they say 'no radio', they are trying to tell you something important.

  4. In my current setup, the old IBM PC is connected to the Internet via the USB ADSL modem; the laptops -- plural because the Windows laptop from work has also been commissioned into the home LAN -- use the Internet connection (I'm running Privoxy on the PC) via the wireless router.

  5. Accessing the Internet from behind a proxy is no fun, even if you have full control over your Proxy server. All software depending on access to other ports (most notably P2P) will stop dead in their tracks, unless you bone up on things like SSH tunnelling. The sooner you get an Ethernet modem and retire the proxy, the better.

  6. Though Gmail is my preferred email application, I still like to have offline access to my emails by pulling them from Thunderbird. Problem: how to access Gmail's POP server from behind a proxy? Solution(s):

    • Run a POP3 proxy

    • SSH tunnel through the HTTP proxy

    • Export your Thunderbird email folder in your laptop via NFS to the PC, and run Thunderbird once a day on the PC (replicating the Thuderbird profile to all your Linux installations does come in handy, after all)

    Naturally, I opted for the more complicated, unorthodox solution, i.e. the last choice.

  7. The Switchproxy Firefox extension is worth its weight in gold.

  8. I don't know if my rudimentary networking knowledge is a contributing factor, but both Privoxy and Squid have some DNS issues; I tried all these combinations: starting my Internet connection manually before starting Privoxy/Squid manually, starting the proxy manually before connecting to the Internet manually, sticking the connection script in /etc/init.d/boot.local and starting the proxy automatically using YAST System Services, but I invariably ended up with "Could not resolve..." errors. The solution finally was to compile Privoxy from the sources and run it manually, after connecting to the Internet manually. Whew.