Net Work: Part 1

Stephen Yagielowicz

Well, I'm at it again; I'm about to perform a simple (for many of you) task, but something that I have never done before: connect my new laptop to another computer, and transfer some files via a shared Ethernet connection. If you've always wanted to try this, but were not sure how it was done, here's how I (almost) did it:

I'm not a "technical person." Much of the Internet's hidden "plumbing" baffles me; I only care that my email and FTP work, that when I type a URL into my browser that the site I want appears. I'll leave the magic to someone else; I just want it to work. I have much the same attitude towards my computers; to me they're tools used to perform specific tasks, and I learn what I need to know to efficiently operate my tools, but without an immediate need to do something specific, I won't bother "playing with it." I have too many other tasks waiting, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to focus on what I consider (for me, anyways) to be "unnecessary" knowledge.

It's like electricity: I don't care how it's made, or what tensile strength and load bearing capabilities are inherent in the giant cable that runs between the Seabrook Station and my beach house: all I care about is that when I flip on the wall switch, the lights come on: With that disclaimer of my total lack of competency in this area, let's see if I can make this happen.

Poking Around Out Back
You see, this idea all started a few days ago when I noticed that Dawn's box has an Ethernet connector - hmmmm... My new laptop has this Ethernet thingy on the back, too. Dawn says that I can connect a phone cable between the two, and they'll talk with each other; and that we can easily share some of the killer digital photos that I've taken of her, and a bunch of hot mp3s too.

A Win98 machine, her PC has a "Network Neighborhood" icon on the desktop - a logical place for me to start clicking in an effort to fudge my way through this process. Clicking on the "Entire Network" link (the only link in the folder) caused a small error dialog box to popup, saying "unable to browse the network" and detailing appropriate documentation in the Windows' "Help" system. I wasn't ready to read the instructions yet, and wanted to fiddle with all the knobs and buttons a bit first. Let's see what sort of confusion I can find in Windows' Control Panel. The list of components was long and intimidating, full of bizarre connection types, and more entries than I've ever seen

At The Controls
There was indeed an icon labeled "Network." Clicking returned me to slightly familiar territory and a listing of installed network components. The list of components was long and intimidating, full of bizarre connection types, and more entries than I've ever seen on a PC before; an allusion to the box' workhorse past in one of Dawn's past offices (populated with folks who actually understood all of this and maintained her network for her). WTF. Doing this might be harder than I first imagined, or maybe it wouldn't be:

My new laptop has Windows XP installed on it, and it's pretty clever, recognizing and automatically setting up everything that I've plugged into it. It knows what kind of video and digital still cameras I've attached to it (displaying their make and model). My happy "disco" mouse (a Logitech optical unit) and my multi-function Internet keyboard are all recognized automatically as well. Would my sweet new laptop simply "see" her box and say "Hello?" It was time for me to shut down, attach a small phone cord used for dial-up connections between the two machine's Ethernet ports, and then reboot. Hmmm, sounds like a plan - let's see what happens:

Another trip to CompUSA
Sigh. While it looks as though Windows XP may be smart enough to figure out how to connect the two machines together, my laptop tells me that the network cable's unplugged despite the fact that I had popped that phone line in the correct plug. Could it be that I need a different cable, one that looks like a phone cord but isn't?

There are a number of other direct connectivity options listed in Win XP's network setup wizard, but Dawn's box doesn't have an IR port, my laptop doesn't have a serial port, and I lack the proper cable to enable a direct parallel port connection. CompUSA is over a 100 mile round trip; and it's wildly snowing out; making the journey to town one for another day...

Well here I am, my networking schemes foiled for the present time. Have no fear: I will soon have these two boxes exchanging files — one way or another. Stay tuned! ~ Stephen

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