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Thursday, December 28th, 2006

High Desert Snow

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, but today, instead of flying, I was driving. I was passing through the Galiuro Mountains east of Tucson, heading for New Mexico, and it was snowing lightly.

Snow in the high desert is just the icing on the cake of the beauty of this land. I’m sure there are places in the American Southwest that are even more spectacular, but it sure was nice being distracted from the things that are going on in my life by a few incredibly picturesque scenes.

Geography has a major consideration in my work of late – I’ve been tracking cathodic protection readings by GPS readings. Although I first started trying to get geographical coordinates on CP facilities (and by extension, the structures that they’re on) back in 1995, the available technology has improved substantially over the years to the point that very accurate information is easily obtained. The trouble is, the tools to manipulate this data have not been so forthcoming. I’ve been keeping my eye on GIS systems for a while now, but the software has been prohibitively expensive for me to use with what I’ve been doing. But that’s changing – GIS has become a foundation for all kinds of civil engineering work and other fields, and now corrosion control data analysis is being dragged into it. Clients are just now starting to demand their data in a GIS-importable format, and I’ve got a whole new skill set to acquire.

But this skill set combines a lot of things that I’ve already been interested in – map reading, computer graphics, and databases. I’ve been boning up lately on the fundamentals, particularly on the basics of geodesy (projections, datums and coordinate systems). I’ve been trying to get a high end open source GIS system installed on my computer, but the Windows version just doesn’t work, and the Linux version seems to be having a lot of problems with dependencies, which is also helping me get more familiar the nuts and bolts of Linux, because I’ve been trying to configure and compile source packages instead of installing rpms.

But if that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, while researching the geography of the region, I couldn’t help but get drawn into the history. I ended up with a fascination in Sibley’s 1862 New Mexico Campaign, which turned out to be the historical setting for one of my favorite movies – Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Yeah. Distractions. May as well put them to good use.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, General Science, OS, Posts About Me at 21:59 PST

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Sunday, May 14th, 2006

Fedora Core 5 HWP54G and RT2500 chipset

I have been bemoaning my luck with upgrading to FC5 and the problems with two different wireless cards. But there is progress to report – I have the rt2500 chipset one up now. Good thing, too, because I’m already getting visitors with the same problem.

After my adventure getting this card up and running, I have been regularly upgrading my kernels, and each time I have to re-make the drivers (and install the new linux-ntfs rpm.) It was getting to be a bit routine until I did the big upgrade to FC5, and I did everything the same and it just didn’t work. Here’s a sample of some of the error messages I got:

rt2500 device wlan0:0 does not seem to be present, delaying initialization.

Error inserting rt2500 (/lib/modules/2.6.16-1.2111_FC5/extra/rt2500.ko): Invalid argument

rt2500: falsely claims to have parameter ifname

I’m beginning to think that, the more I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on this Linux stuff, the more I learn that I am truly ignorant. I tried tackling this issue with just a little research and a heightened sense of experience, but in the end I turned to the serialmonkey forums, and I found the answer. Correction – I found the workaround. So if you missed it (thanks, TomG!):

had the same problem but finally got it to work w/ the rt2500-cvs-2006032123 CVS build. Here’s what I did:

1 untared the archive somewhere in my home directory.
2. changed to the “Module” directory.
3. ran “make” as normal user to build the module.
4. ran “make install” as root
5. ran “make install-fedora” as root

Afterwards I was able to configure the card using system->administration->network.

Now, apart from using the CVS tarball, this is exactly the same, simple procedure I’ve always been using except for step 4. Fedora users aren’t supposed to make install this build. In fact, part of my earlier troubles were because I was doing that. There’s two pages of discussion of what might have been causing the problem, but it’s typically forum-muddled, so it doesn’t help me. But the procedure worked. And furthermore, I picked up that they have made improvements to the generic rt2w00 that enables it to work with the SMP kernels – unless that’s the one that doesn’t have WEP.

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 07:35 PST

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Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

Struggling with Fedora Core 5 Upgrades

No, folks, I’m not dead.

I have been struggling at home, trying to get my second box connected to the wireless lan with Fedora Core 5, trying a lot of things without getting a repeat of the one time I got it all up and running. In a break from this, I used the yum upgrader to update all my packages on the FC4 box I normally use. However, this upgraded SeaMonkey, my browser, and I lost all the extensions that I have come to rely on so much. Rather than mess around retrieving and reinstalling all these, I decided to upgrade the FC4 to FC5. This turned out to be a little tricker that I thought it would be, because the FC5 installation dvd detected my multithreading processor and installed the smp kernel. Trouble is, the rt2500 drivers for my HWP54G wireless card don’t work with the smp kernel. Then I tried hand installing the single processor version from the dvd using rpm, but rpm kept detecting the upgraded FC4 kernel I had installed, and refused to replace it with an older version kernel. I finally went to the source and got the lastest single processor FC5 kernel and installed that. Now, although I can build the rt2500 drivers, I’m having trouble detecting the card.

So this is keeping me pretty busy, but I’m learning an awful lot about the Linux file system, sources and modules. I might even have to recompile my kernels to get things working. Fascinating stuff. But in the meantime, I’ve been posting on the technical forums and neglecting my blog.

So sorry, Mum (my most regular visitor.) The baby is potty training, and being rather cheerful about it. Chelsea’s been getting excited about learning rifles next year in Color Guard. I have entirely too much work to do, and we’re still looking to hire new engineers. I recently reread Cryptonomicon, and I’m taking another crack at getting through The Baroque Cycle.

And I’m getting a very regular repeat visitor from Milton Keynes in the UK (or so my geolocators tell me.) Drop me a note and say hi!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 23:14 PST

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Thursday, April 20th, 2006

FC5 and Wireless Card

I got a little more time tonight to try checking the suggestions from cyclopropene, but not enough to answer his questions, so my FC5 machine is still not connected. I did go back and found that I had more notes that look like they went up to the point that I got the card working with the 2.6.15 kernel, but I’ve tinkered with so many things since then, I’m afraid I’ve destroyed any chances that I might be able to retrace my steps. I’m using a mix of line commands, hand edits of files, and the gui for system-config-network and NetworkManager, which seems a recipe for disaster for someone who doesn’t quite know exactly what they’re doing. I remember the last thing I did that made it all work last time – I used NetworkManager to “Connect to another wireless network” and typed in my SSID and WEP key. But at that point I must have properly loaded the primary and secondary firmware. I got my wish, but I’m still having a problem with wlan0 and wifi0 being disabled after running the firmware loader. And the configurations in system-config-network don’t match the output of iwconfig, either, which seems highly suspicious.

Thanks to my previous posts of frustration, if you Google fc5 dwl-520, now my blog comes up as the second website. So one of the experts I can turn to for help is – me! That’s soooo encouraging!

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 00:06 PST

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Monday, April 17th, 2006

FC5, Prism2.5 News

Well, I was right. Once I rebooted, I could not get the D-Link DWL-520 rev E wireless network card running again.

I was following the most optimistic instructions I could find, which specifically addressed this card under Fedora Core 5. I installed the hostap-utils rpm, the firmware files, and made the edits to /usr/sbin/hostap_fw_load, and ran the firmware loader. I wish, wish, wish that I had have recorded the output of host_fw_load the time when it actually worked, because I’ve noticed the output vary, and give different reasons why it didn’t work.

After I upgraded my packages while the card was working, I rebooted with the newer kernel, 2.6.16. I don’t know why it was 16 instead of 20, which is the 2.6 kernel I’m running on my FC4 machine, but switching back and forth hasn’t helped. I never used make to compile anything, so I don’t see how changing the kernel has created more problem for me. Perhaps firmware incompatibilities?

Now, every time I run the firmware loader I destroy something. If I run iwconfig when I first start the machine, I see the card both at wifi0 and wlan0. When I run hostap_fw_load once, it reports loading the primary firmware, and wlan0 usually disappears. If I run it again, it reports loading the secondary firmware, it says it doesn’t work because there’s no such device as wlan0, and wifi0 disappears. The only way I know how to get them back is to reboot.

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 12:09 PST

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Monday, April 3rd, 2006

Companies Supporting Open-Source

In my last post, I mentioned IBM and Sun Microsystems as supporting open-source solutions. I just got the news that there’s another large technology company that I can add to the list – Microsoft!

MS announced at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo that it was releasing its Virtual Server 2005 hypervisor product as a free download, and for the first time ever, was providing support for Linux, although it is limited to Red Hat and SuSE – two Linux distros that I have used. The technical press is buzzing (4 links), seeing the move as a catchup attempt to compete with the better quality and more established VMware and the fast-growing open-source solution Xen.

If that doesn’t make my case that it should be ok to integrate Linux clients into MS server networks, I don’t know what will. MS, by this move, is acknowledging that users increasingly want and need Linux, and that integration can be achieved.

Hmmm – now it makes sense that Microsoft came to my blog looking for FC4 driver information. They must be building a knowledgebase for support! MS isn’t including Fedora Core versions on the supported list, but if they’re out there searching for driver information, they might be planning on expanding their support.

Posted by Greg as My Website, OS at 14:33 PST

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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

Supplicating to the Hershbergers

Dane and Rayna Hershberger found recent posts on my blog that seemed to get them mightily indignant, based on his and her comments, which absolutely horrified me, because they’re my favorite IT people on the face of the planet, and I would never want to offend them. I’ve calmed down some from my initial panic because the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call them, as Dane expected.

Dane said he found my site by Googling his own name (something I’ve done on a regular basis since I discovered Google, and a practice I highly recommend if you have any concerns at all about privacy. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has an even more complete list of research you should do on yourself.) I guess getting mail from me in the past with an email address ending in this site’s moniker just didn’t pique his curiosity.

I guess my characterization of the reaction to Linux on the part of most Windows-certified network engineers is based primarily on my experience of their disdain, so I wasn’t surprised to see the MS-minion flavor of their comments, but I was hurt to think that Dane felt he needed to defend the work he put into almost single-handedly creating Corrpro’s WAN. He shouldn’t feel that way, and he should in no way interpret any comment I make as a criticism of his efforts. For the record, I think he, Rayna, and the other folks at the old Corrpro IT department (which was replaced by outsourcing to IIG, which has since been bought by TechniSource) did an awesome job, even without considering how few personnel they had and how hamstrung they where by limits on equipment and software expenditures. I think that if they wrote a book or a website about the experience, it would make a great field reference for other oppressed IT professionals to use as a guide.

Still, I’m not surprised that when the TechniSource folks came in, looked at the existing setup, decided that they had a lot of work to do “building an Enterprise class infrastructure.” Their position is probably flavored by their experience as consultants, coming into existing networks of all different types of configurations, and apparently they have the influence with Corrpro’s refinancing specialists to leverage the investment that the Hershbergers didn’t. I don’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of setting up a WAN to understand it all, so there’s no way I can judge (or even know) what they’re trying to do. I am, however, surprised that they consider the expired security certificate on the intranet site to be a low-priority item.

One thing in my postings that I will attempt to defend is my justification on why it did no harm for me to attempt to set up a Linux client on the MS network. I asked to do it on my own time and virtually without support. The only questions I was asked of IT was how their setup was configured – stuff like the name of the Kerberos realm, and why my Windows client always got the same ip address when it was set to DHCP. I don’t have network administration privileges, so nervousness about any damage I could have caused only reveals insecurity about the fundamental soundness of the system. When I couldn’t get my Linux client to require me to authenticate as system user with my first attempts, I backed off from the haphazard guidelines I had found on the Internet and set out to read and understand the entire Samba manual – all 900+ pages of it.

As to the question to I am so often confronted with – Why? I guess you had to grow up with Windows to be ignorant of the fact that some people have never used it and don’t want to. It’s for all practical purposes a different language. The GUI was stolen from Apple, who stole it from PARC, so there’s nothing new there. I had used several different operating systems before Windows was ever released, and I wasn’t impressed with it at all when it came out. Win95 came out before I stopped using the command line interface all the time on my 3.1 machine. I ran NDOS on top of my older DOS machines, so I didn’t see much advantage in point and click, especially when it crashed on a regular basis.

I’m willing to admit that Linux may have just as many security holes in it as Windows, but when you’re assessing risk, you have to factor in the probability of vulnerabilities being exploited, and the Windows vulnerabilities are too many and too well known. It’s one place in particular where the open-source model shines – vulnerabilities are published, and the patches are often available later the same day. Microsoft, if you’re lucky, will wait at least until their next monthly cycle, and there are plenty of known problems that have been sitting out there for months, going on to years. When I have to use Internet Explorer, I feel like I’m walking around naked with a “Do Me Up the Rear” sign on my back. For the bottom line on systems security, I’d have to defer to the opinion of the world’s biggest consumer of high-end secure systems – the NSA. What do they use? Hell, they wrote SELinux.

In a corporate environment, the whole idea of IT boils down to productivity. If I’m more productive and creative using Linux, why shouldn’t I be allowed to use it? Graphics design and art production houses would shudder at the idea of giving up their Macs because it’s what their people know best. As open-source solutions gain more and more acceptance, you’re going to see an increasing number of talented people who can crank work out on a Linux desktop, but fumble around in the dark when confronted with Windows. I’ve run across several applications that only work in Linux, and I’m going to start actively looking for them in preparation for my planned project request for my own IT Steering Committee. Open-source solutions have been embraced by such luminous names as IBM and Sun Microsystems, and governments around the world are trying it out. IBM has a redbook on migration to Linux that gives a great analysis of the reasons a corporation should consider doing so. If anything, voices like mine are driving the lumbering MS behemoth to be more responsive, and a good free-market conservative should be able to see that.

My little enterprise was along the lines of a pilot project, independent and self supporting, so I think it’s unfair to level criticism against it as opening the doors to anarchy. I guess I don’t see the case for uniformity. What are we trying to preserve? I’m not talking about changing the system, just the way I interact with it. I can provide my own hardware and driver support. All systems users are not equal – I’ve never manned a help desk, but I can see that. There already is a class system for users out there (and 90% are peasants!), and the systems have already been built to accommodate that. Even support systems are multi-tiered. In my small office, we have four different operating systems currently in use, all MS, each with its own quirks. For years, I couldn’t print in landscape to our color printer from my NT 4.0 machine, so I had to go to a different desktop to print charts. Yes, drivers are harder in Linux, but if you work at it, you can generally get things to perform, and you always learn something in the process. One thing I was offering was to write the howto on connecting a Linux box to the existing network. Based on my incoming and return traffic to my wireless card documentation, I think I’ve earned some credentials there. The beauty of the open-source system is that you can get a lot, and it only takes some people putting some back for it all to work.

I could get really worked up about all this, just as my esteemed friends could as well. I think both sides make valid points, but if we sink into debating the relative merits of our cases, we’re wasting our time. Everything is evolving faster than we can prepare our talking points, and the reality on the ground is not going to be changed by anything we say or do. In twenty, thirty, or a hundred years, the MS way might be looked back upon the way we look at the 19th century railroad companies today. I’m going to stop writing and go back to figuring out how to get my Prism2.5 chipset working under Fedora. Dane and Rayna can continue to shake their heads; I just hope they’ll still like me and keep in touch.

P.S. I put in a link to GreatMountain. Keep an eye on your PageRank!

P.P.S. If you guys used Mozilla, you could take advantage of the great SpellBound extension!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, My Website, OS at 23:44 PST

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Saturday, April 1st, 2006

And The Walls Came Crashing Down

I came into work Thursday morning, started logging in to the two computers I’m currently using, and launched Outlook on the one that wasn’t getting tweaked with Linux. There was new mail from my compadre in the IT department with the title “Corrpro & Linux”. Right away I knew it wasn’t going to be good, and sure enough, it started of with “I just had my talk with…” “…it didn’t go as well as we had hoped..”

Crash and burn.

Along with a set of perfectly reasonable and sensible explanations, I got the dreaded instructions to remove Linux from any company machine I had installed it on. I thought it had been too good to be true, and it was.

I don’t blame any of them wanting to steer clear of alternate operating systems – they’re all MS certified, MS has been their bread and butter, it’s the devil they know. The party line among their peers is that Linux is too difficult, to complicated, too much of a headache, and not necessary anyway. To be fair, I feel much the same way about protecting ductile iron from corrosion – there’s no way DI is magically exempt from the processes that affect all other metals; the tried-and-true methods of bonded, dielectric coating and cathodic protection would be the best way to protect it, and all those wackos out of DIPRA are just living in fantasy land thinking that polywrap is all that you need – they’re only so adamant because the polywrap solution is the only way they can be cost-competitive with coated steel or mortar-lined-and-coated steel. (Although I’ve witnessed some spectacular failures of polyethylene encasement, I’ve also seen ten-year old DI come out of brackish marsh soil looking brand new – but guess which story I’m more likely to tell.)

Hrmmp. Well, that comparison got as far as it’s going to get – Linux and my support of it are not the same as DI and DIPRA. (And there’s no way I’m going to link to them in any favorable light!)

I guess I had anticipated the reaction to even trying to use Linux. I had been thinking that I needed to put it all above-board; to file an official project request for a pilot project, and had been thinking about how to paint the whole thing as minimal or no cost to the company, offering substantial potential reward, and as sure to increase shareholder value as the sun will rise tomorrow. I have worried that I was going to get my new friend into trouble, and that our reckless tinkering was going to get the entire blame the next time the stock price took any dip, and that we would reinforce any reluctance to entertain the idea. **Sigh**

I’ve been feeling a lot of foreboding, accentuated by the coincidental appearance around the same time of Google Finance, with their page on Corrpro and its link to my blog. I’ve been waiting for the dam to burst, checking my access logs all the time, looking for the inbound flood of traffic because every employee has suddenly found out about it, and what was that blog with the sooo negative title, and who is this guy anyway? Some will come for the schadenfreude, others from the well-instilled reaction to put out any fire they see. Of course, most will come just because they’re desperately trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and whether they’re still going to have a job next month.

It’s funny in a way – even before this, I was starting to feel a little more positive about work. I had realized that the sky wasn’t going to come crashing down on us all when my boss left. I had actually gotten to meet and talk with some of the powers-that-be when they came tromping through; first, to make sure the office would continue to be the money-maker it had been, and second, to go to the NACE annual conference. I was starting to catch up with my backlog, and had finished a few reports that had just been sapping my strength whenever I looked at them, they had gotten so dreary. I had learned a few lessons from the experience, new important hazards to look out for, and how best to deal with them. I had exciting, challenging new stuff ahead of me, and I was getting back to finishing the coding project I had started so many months ago. I was seeing opportunities for the company and for myself. Lately, I been noticing that I’m now answering a lot more questions than I am asked, and I feel more sure about my answers.

I haven’t done myself any favors by describing myself as a maverick and a cowboy. I’ve nearly always tried to be a team player, not someone who thumbed their nose at authority and virtually challenged them to catch me at it. I’ve always enjoyed testing my limits, but always appreciated that firm hand steering me back in the right direction. I’m not someone who causes chaos just for fun.

So if you came here looking for what I have to say about Corrpro, and have read all of the posts I tagged, you should by now be getting the point that this is my blog, my online diary, so to speak. It’s not a CNBC analysis or criticism of an embattled company, not a whistleblower’s journal documenting [insert favorite fear here], not a diatribe against the corrosion industry’s “Evil Empire” (to quote Pete Lamb, a long-time Henkels and McCoy devotee, former boss, and Good Guy.) This blog is about me, what I find interesting, and what I think about it all. Corrpro is just a little part of my world, and after not being able to get back to sleep at three o’clock in the morning, right now it’s just a victim of my proclivity towards introspection, semi-colons, and run-on sentences.

Posted by Greg as OS, Posts About Me at 06:02 PST

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Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Google Finance – Corrpro

Well, it’s official – I got the first post on the new Google Finance discussion group on Corrpro Companies, Inc. It got approved 6 hours and 10 minutes after I submitted it. My profile is up and visible to all, which currently makes my private email available to anyone who wants it, and provides a link to my blog.

So the idea of putting up my own message board to replace the old Yahoo one is officially dead. I don’t have to worry about all the crap that would have gotten posted, and I won’t have all the work of trying to fair-handedly moderate it.

Of course, it also means that I can assume that anyone who is interested in Corrpro is going to be able to find his or her way here and see everything I write. Well, that’s always been true, and I’ve known it, but this just makes it easier to be found. Hmmm – just went back and reviewed all the posts I tagged with the Corrpro category, and I didn’t see anything that I couldn’t live with being read by every person in my chain of command, all the way up to the Chairman of the Board (who, accusations of sucking up aside, is a pretty decent guy – hell, I introduced him to my parents.) As a matter of fact, since I only recently came up with the idea of having a Corrpro category, I can see that I need to go all the way back and tag a few more with it. I’ve already re-tagged my post honoring the late John Waters, and that just makes me think that I need to also put up a post honoring his brother, whom I also worked with – the former NACE president, Don Waters, who passed away before I started my blog. Yes – I have his old yearbook photo, too.

I’m also going to have to email a few associates. I’m sure that my old boss, Blaine, will get a chuckle out of all this. And, of course, increased traffic drives up my Google Page Rank™, and maybe, with the exposure, I can get more people to jump on the Linux bandwagon as well.

Posted by Greg as My Website, OS at 03:54 PST

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Saturday, March 11th, 2006

Reinstall RT2500 Driver After Kernel Upgrade

I was working with Fedora today when I found out that what I was trying to do would be a lot easier if I was running the 2.6.15 kernel. What version was I running? Well, initially I found out by opening /boot/grub/grub.conf, but as I tooled around later, I realized the proper way was uname -r or cat /proc/version. I was running 2.6.14 – needed to upgrade!

Most of the info I found after a search dealt with upgrading between major releases – FC 3 to FC 4, for example. But I saw enough to figure out how to do it using yum. Upgrading the kernel seemed like heavy stuff, so I logged off and logged back in as root.

First, I made sure that I was using the latest version of yum (which I wasn’t):

[root@localhost /]# yum update yum

Then, a bunch of yum output messages later, I tried the same with the kernel:

[root@localhost /]# yum update kernel

I didn’t get any bells and whistles, just yum telling me it worked. Was I already running the new kernel? Using cat /proc/version I saw I wasn’t. So I checked the /boot directory – yep, there were more files there, including several that had “2.6.15.1833” in their names. I went further, looking at the /boot/grub/grub.conf. Yum had thoughtfully added the new kernel version to my list of startups, and left the default alone. So everything was set for a reboot. But wait – I was expecting that changing the kernel meant that my HWP54G rt2500 wireless card driver would need to be reinstalled. Did the Internet still work? Yes, cool, I could go to my blog and check my notes. There, I was reminded that I needed to install the new kernel source, so I also ran

[root@localhost /]# yum update kernel-devel

While my connection still worked, I saved a copy of the installation notes in my blog to the hard drive, and I was set for a reboot. During this, as expected, I failed to connect to my network. I also failed to mount my NTFS drives, so apparently I had done something special to make that work! But that’s for later. I had to look for the rt2X00 driver files – I had placed them in /etc/rt2500/module – which, if I had have read my notes fully, I would have seen from the examples. So I tried the following:

[root@localhost /]# cd /etc/rt2500/module
[root@localhost module]# make
make[1]: Entering directory `/usr/src/kernels/2.6.15-1.1833_FC4-i686'
Building modules, stage 2.
MODPOST
make[1]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/kernels/2.6.15-1.1833_FC4-i686'
[root@localhost module]# make install-fedora
if ! [ -f rt2500.ko ]; then \
module; \
fi
install 'rt2500.ko' to /lib/modules/2.6.15-1.1833_FC4/extra
install -m 755 -o 0 -g 0 -d /lib/modules/2.6.15-1.1833_FC4/extra
install -m 644 -o 0 -g 0 rt2500.ko /lib/modules/2.6.15-1.1833_FC4/extra
/sbin/depmod -a
[root@localhost module]#

(Hope you can pick out what I typed in – the bold text – from the responses.) And then I was back on my network! Nothing else to configure – all the settings were retained from before. I was able to open up a browser and go back to my blog – which I searched using the term ntfs. I was lucky – I had mentioned how I got the ntfs drives mounted, so now I’m off to fix that!

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 15:57 PST

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