Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thanking the Lord

: About 9 pm Thursday night, in stunned amazement (mixed with exhaustion), Bear got up from her computer desk, walked over to the nearest wall, leaned her head against it, and thanked the Lord for a miracle.

"Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord! That is an actual real miracle, and I just acknowledge it was You that did that, Lord."

She dropped to her knees. "That is so incredible. You are so awesome..."

She started walking around the Den, continuing to thank Him, still amazed.

She finally was on the Net with her $70 eBay computer and the free Debian Linux operating system. The Web Browser, after days of giving her "can't be found -- check your Internet connection" message screens, had suddenly switched to the Home Page of Debian's Technical Support Website -- a real live page on the Internet.

To explain why that was a miracle and so shocked the Bear, let's go back to where Bear's last Den post left off about 10 days ago...

At that point, despite having accumulated three modems, she still was unable to get on the Internet, and had narrowed the problem down to either the modem's power supply having a faulty cable, or a cable inside the wall as being faulty. (She only had one modem power supply cable, despite having three modems.)

While waiting for a fourth eBay modem to arrive in the mail (which included a modem power cable as part of the deal) Bear was spending much of her time reading up on Linux, hoping she could use the free Debian Linux operating system and other free software packages on the $70 computer she had also ordered off of eBay, due to arrive any day. (Both her modem connection, and the computer itself, had chosen about the same time to go on the blink in various ways.)

When the eBay modem finally arrived in the mail, she was surprised and happy to see that it looked to be in new condition, despite the fact it was advertised as used. The power cable was even still in its original little box.

And, Hallelujah! A quick test showed that it worked. It successfully connected her old Laptop (which has Windows XP on it) to the Net.

So that problem was solved... which was a tremendous relief after weeks of struggle.

But the Laptop still had its own problems...

So she waited for the $70 computer to arrive, continuing to study Linux operating systems, in preparation for what she was about to attempt.

While waiting, she also ran across an old book called "Building a PC for Dummies", and started reading that, intrigued.

Bear had known almost nothing at all about what a computer was like on the inside. So she was fascinated to discover that the inside parts were just connected to one another with screws and plugs and "ribbon" cables and things, and that they could be removed and interchanged with what looked to be relative ease.

And the book made it sound easy too.

For example, Bear had always thought that replacing a computer's hard drive was a very complex and technical process. She hadn't known that you could just unscrew a few screws and unplug a few wires and pull the thing out. Then put another one in its place.

And it looked like you could even do the same thing with the CD/DVD drives, although that looked slightly more complicated. There was a chapter in the book with pictures, showing how to do it.

Which got Bear to thinking a lot...

She knew, from the $70 computer's photo and description on eBay, that it didn't have a very good CD or DVD drive on it. They were both ROM -- read only -- and neither one could do any recording.

But one of her old dead computers had very lovely CD and DVD drives on it that could both record and play...

Plus, old Zapclunk -- her original Internet computer -- had a 20 GB hard drive that was still likely to be in great condition. His long-term memory had never been any problem at all -- the one component that had always been charming and cooperative in nature and attitude. It had been his 120 MB RAM short term memory and his incredibly slow processor speed that had led to his eventual retirement, making him useless for Internet work.

So Bear began to picture herself performing amazing surgical procedures on her $70 computer, if needed, to help it become more than it had ever hoped to be...

But then she shook her head, put the book aside, and went back to studying Linux, telling herself she was getting too crazy and that it would be best not to destroy what she hoped was going to turn out to be a computer very usable for the Net (with its fast processor), by experimenting on it, using some crazy "For Dummies" book from a Thrift Store as a surgical reference manual...

And she went back to checking the Den's front porch and the nearby Post Office, watching for the computer, which seemed very slow in arriving.

But it finally did arrive, and Bear was most happy to find that it was well padded in bubble wrap, and not broken (like the one that had arrived a few weeks earlier). She hooked it up and saw its initial screen flash on, showing it was actually a working computer, as advertised, even though there was no operating system installed.

She rubbed her paws together joyfully, ready to try out her Linux CD's on it and load the new operating system.

But first, to figure out how to get into the BIOS menu...

About 8 hours later, Debian Linux's Welcome screen came up with reassuringly bright colors (after quite a bit of trial and error on Bear's part, and many adjustments). It was a match! Debian Linux had successfully detected all the computer's hardware components and loaded workable Linux drivers for them, and was even working okay with the computer's video card (which can be a major trip-up point when trying to load a Linux desktop system).

Except there was one problem...

Debian had failed to successfully set up the modem connection basics...

And had given her an "if you think I'm going to get you on the Net, you're out of your mind" type of error message.

Bear frowned.

This did not look good.

She wondered what the problem was.

Maybe Linux hadn't had a generic driver to substitute for her modem's Windows' driver and she was going to need to search the Net for a compatible driver? (She did have some Net access via her old Laptop now, and could do that, possibly).

But was it really a driver problem?

Or had she made an error putting info into the Internet Connections setup screens?

Or something else?

Debian isn't like Windows. It's not built to be so "user friendly", although it is getting more "user friendly" as the years go by. Sometimes, in Linux, you have to type in commands into the Operating System, to tell it how to do things when it gets stuck with something it's not sure about. You have to kind of help it along, giving it step by step instructions.

And Bear, as a total Newbie, was in the dark as to how to do that for this kind of issue. Plus, the menu screens seemed a lot more confusing than Windows' are.

All the regular things (like Word Processing programs, desktop look/feel, etc) are actually very similar to Windows, and even better in some ways. But the Internet Connection screens were more complicated and confusing.

Plus, Bear had learned from her reading that sometimes you had to actually find out from your ISP provider people specific numbers and facts to plug into the menus, if the Operating System couldn't detect the information on its own (like Windows always does).

Was that the problem maybe? Did Bear need to get those numbers and try that?

But what use getting the numbers, when she didn't yet know where to plug the numbers in, or how to do that?

And she knew that it was very unlikely that her ISP technical support person would know anything about Debian. It's not a super common operating system yet.

Plus, if a missing modem driver was the problem, numbers wouldn't help. She'd need to figure out how to install a driver.

She tried fiddling with various things for a couple days, trying to learn as she went.

Eventually, she even found a program on one of her Debian CD's that could be installed that was supposed to help set up Debian to connect to the Net, for those who had Bear's kind of ISP's service (PPPoE).

So she installed that program, and answered all its questions, typing in the commands it told her to, giving the Operating System instructions that were supposed to work.

But it didn't change anything.

Finally, she gave up in frustration and retreated from the computer -- back to reading manuals.

But she tried to look on the bright side.

True, she wasn't on the Net yet. And she didn't have a CD/DVD that could record. But she at least had a very nicely working computer with a free Operating System and lots of free software programs to play with...

But she worried much about the Internet issue... What if she could never get on the Net? What use a nice computer if it wouldn't work on the Net? She didn't want to lay out the money to buy Windows and its related software (and do so repetitively for the rest of her life every time she got a new computer or upgraded). She just couldn't afford to keep doing that.

Besides, she liked Debian lots better than Windows already.

She decided it was worth studying more, to learn how to do this thing...

A few days later, on Wednesday, she figured she had studied enough and was ready to tackle the Internet connection problem again.

And she spent that whole day trying various things to get on the Net.

She decided that it really didn't seem to be a modem driver problem, because all her modem's lights were on. Plus, one of Debian's screens even claimed that a few "packets" had been sent and received.

So why wasn't she on the Net yet?

If not a modem problem (which, after the last weeks, had of course been Bear's first assumption), then what?

She figured out from Help manuals exactly which numbers ("addresses") Debian might want from her ISP provider, and went looking for them on her Laptop. Sure enough, she found the "addresses" for her modem's broadcast address and the ISP's address in her connection settings screen there, and so plugged those numbers into Debian's menus.

Debian was not happy with that though.

It stopped claiming that packets were being sent, and spitefully turned off her modem's lights to make its attitude extra clear on the issue.

So she tried the program that was supposed to configure PPPoE connections again -- following its directions very carefully.

No luck there either.

By Thursday afternoon she got desperate enough to actually call her Internet Service Provider's technical support line, (although she had understandably lost confidence in them after they had told her she needed a new modem with her old computer when it was clearly a cable she needed.)

The young man who answered her call did nothing to increase her confidence in them when he said, "What did you say the name of the Operating System you're trying to use is?"

"Debian Linux."

"Never heard of it. We don't support that operating system."

"Well I figured that. But just please answer me a few questions here... What's my IP address and my Subnet Mask?"

"I don't know. Are you trying to set up your email?"

"No. I'm just trying to get on the Net! Do you show my modem as being connected over there?"

"Uh... Yeah. It's registering. But you're not on the Net."

"Yeah. I noticed that, all right. But if my modem's registering over at your office, then the driver on it has to be working. We can at least assume that, right?"

"Uh... I don't know. It seems to be registering though."

Bear sighed as the conversation continued on in similar fashion. The young man was trying to help, but was clearly in waters way over his head, just as Bear was. And he kept repeating that they "don't support Debian".

Finally she told him she would do some more research and get back to him.

He seemed thankful to hang up.

By then she was truly exhausted. (She'd overdone a Den cleaning project that day too, and was sore from "head to paw", the pain and fatigue adding to her sense of hopelessness over the computer issue.)

It had been a long month. Or was it more than a month now since the computer problems had started? She wasn't sure.

All she knew was that she was truly and totally stumped, and that it was going to take a miracle to get her on the Net with the new computer anytime soon.

So she went to more prayer. And she told God she was definitely, absolutely, totally stumped, and really needed to get on the Net, and needed "revelation knowledge" on the issue, because she was at an end of her resources. And "please get me on the Net".

It was an hour or two later, while doing dishes, that an image of herself typing something into Debian's command terminal window popped into mind. She could see the screen in her mind's eye as if she were typing at that very moment.

She saw herself typing her User access name for her ISP after the prompt: "Username" on the command line...

And she suddenly realized that maybe she shouldn't have typed it after the prompt, like you do in Windows.

It suddenly came to her that Debian might be different that way. What if she erased the prompt "Username" and replaced it with her info? (Instead of putting her info after it?)

Suddenly she was convinced that might be worth a try, and went back to the add-on program that was supposed to help her configure the Operating System for a PPPoE type account.

And she replaced "Username" rather than typing after it.

And instantly she was on the Net, staring in amazement at a real live website in her browser's window.

Which is when she walked over, leaned her head against the wall, and started thanking God for a miracle.

Then, hardly able to stand, she went to bed and fell asleep.

It was ten minutes after midnight when she woke up, feeling somewhat better, and had a sudden urge to try and pull the CD and DVD drives from the new computer and put in the better ones from one of her dead computers.

Naturally, she tried to talk herself out of it. That was too crazy even to consider.

Messing with the new computer when it was finally working?

Risk breaking it?

At midnight?

She tried to go back to sleep.

But couldn't seem to shake the idea.

Muttering about the sheer lunacy of the whole project, she pulled herself out of bed, turned on the light, and started re-reading the chapter in the "Building a PC for Dummies" book.

By 1 a.m., she had two computers on the Den's living room floor, with their guts open.

By 2:30 a.m., after much sweat and worry, she had made the exchange. There were a couple of wires involved the book hadn't told her about, and that concerned her deeply. But she had disconnected the wires carefully on the first computer and made sure to reconnect them in exactly the same places and in the same order (and direction) on the second computer and was hoping for the best.

By 3:00 a.m., she had tested the new drives with Debian and discovered that, although they worked, Debian thought that it now had two CD drives and two DVD drives, and its programs couldn't figure out which drives to actually use.

It kept trying to use the drives that were no longer installed. And it bombarded Bear with many irritated error messages, demanding its missing CD and DVD drives back.

So she decided to erase the whole Debian operating system and reinstall it fresh, hoping that it would recognize that it only had one of each drive, when it configured itself during reinstallation.

6 a.m. -- Debian came up again, reinstalled, and now understanding that it only had one CD drive and one DVD drive, and apparently was ready to cope with that fact in an adult manner.

6:30 a.m. -- Bear was back on the Net, with a fully operating computer and free operating system, including rewritable DVD and CD drives.

There were still a few bugs in the system, but of a minor nature, that could get worked out over time.

The whole thing was up, running, and ready to roll.

Soon, Bear would be back at the online Den, writing again.

She thanked the Lord more...

For miracles in the night...

And went back to bed, an exhausted but happy bear.

Bear sends thanks also to those who have been praying for the Bear during these weeks!

Our God is an Awesome God.
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den