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by Eolake Stobblehouse

The Usefulness Of Net Speed & How To Get It For The Mac
November 1st, 2000

"Broadband" Internet is slowly spreading over the world, taking root in the urban areas first. Actually Steve Jobs expresses the opinion that it makes more sense to just call it "fast Internet," since to most folks "broadband" makes as much sense as "TCP/IP" or "Ethernet", that is to say it makes no sense. It is faster, and it is connected all the time, that is all they need to know.

"Fast Internet" is of course a time-limited term, like many such. In a few years, a download speed of 500 K per second will be laughable. But for most of the population, today's cable or DSL is "fast".

And for most applications, it is a blessing compared to a modem connection. Files are getting larger and larger. I just bought Nisus Writer 6 and downloaded it over the Net. (I don't even think it is available on CD-ROM.) And the file is 30 megabytes! Over a modem connection this is at the very least two hours, and more likely three or four, and you better have software that can take up a download where it left off after an accidental disconnect. On my new cable connection, it was a fifteen minute download. Zippity. Also, large files over e-mail is suddenly a trivial proposition.

Apart from all that, there is the aspect of "always on." If you are somebody using the Web/'Net all the time, like a writer doing research, or almost anybody in business these days, or just a Modern Person, it gets increasingly frustrating to download your mail, disconnect, and discover that you have a mail needing an urgent reply. Or that the article you downloaded for leisurely reading off-line has a second page that you missed. Or that you just need to look up a word at, but it takes 30 seconds each time to connect. And so on and so forth.

Now, I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. But my research shows that my experiences with getting Fast Net is very similar to those people living in other parts of the world. (That is "USA" to many of you, but far from all.) So it should be informative to many. In this city, fast Net is very new, just from this summer/fall, 2000. British Telecom is offering DSL connection, and Telewest is offering a cable connection. I chose the cable connection because: 1.) I have heard that DSL is more problematic. 2.) BT had a much longer waiting period to get an installation than Telewest's two weeks. Further, Telewest, after I had registered on their site for interest, actually called me, and have been very pleasant to deal with. (Astonishingly so for a large phone company.)

Of course there was one problem: they "don't support Macintosh yet." They will, "Maybe by the end of the year." Boff that. I wanted it now. So I did one of those fast decisions that have served me well during this lifetime: while talking to the sales representative I decided to get a PC.

Actually, like I suspected due to having read an article about this at MyMac, it makes no difference to the server whatsoever that I use a Mac. The only difference is that their installation technicians have not been trained to configure the Mac to the connection! What is so frustrating is that they, like most companies, absolutely refuse to take your money for the connection if you use Mac, even if you say you will take care of the configuration yourself!

Now, my radical decision to get a PC is softened somewhat by the fact that I did not want to replace my Mac, of course, only to supplement it. You see, I have long had a CD-ROM lying about with 25 years' worth of Doonesbury cartoons on it, and it is only Windows-compatible. :) (I e-mailed Gary Trudeau about it, and he says he fought three years for it to be Mac-compatible, and lost. He has six Macs in his home, and no easy way to read his own cartoons from that CD-ROM!) Well all right, I also need the PC for checking design of Web pages, art etc., as well as the little things you can only get for Windose yet, but the above sounds more cool.

If the public demands it, I may write an article about the Dell laptop I got, and networking it to the Cube, but here and now I will skip that part. The "cable guy" that came to install the connection was really pleasant and competent. He looked through the apartment for the cable that was supposed to be there. Then he looked all over the front yard until he found a cut and maimed cable by the sidewalk. This meant that he had to pull a new cable all the way under the road, along the sidewalk, through the garden of my downstairs neighbor, up through the wall, and through the apartment! And he did not wince for a second, just went right to it fast and competently, and after fortunately getting permission from the downstairs neighbor (who happened to be home that day!) he had everything done in a couple of hours. He configured the PC to the cable connection, and it was predictably a bit more complex and non-intuitive that the configuration of the Cube. But of course I have to admit that while the settings of the Mac are really simple if you know exactly what they are, it is not something I could figure out by myself.

Fortunately Tim Robertson of is a great guy, and when I mentioned that I needed help, he gave it. I had already established that the ethernet card address (It is called a "MAC address", and has nothing to do with "Mac") which the cable company needed to have from me could be arrived at through running Apple System Profiler. Under the "system profile" tab is an arrow called "network overview," and under that one called "Appletalk". The item called "hardware address" is the needed ethernet address. When the company got it, I didn't need it any more.

The "cable guy" had used a Mac long ago, and found the TCP/IP control panel, and told me it should be on "ethernet" and "using DHCP server". And that you do not need to write in an address in the field set aside for it. (This is one of the non-intuitive parts. Normally the places you can write something in settings, you have to, but not always!)

So far, so good, but when I had registered the Mac's ethernet address as a backup to the PC's address, I could not get the Mac to connect. This is where Tim helped. He told me: 1.) Appletalk should be turned on. (Obvious in retrospect. Or not?) 2.) I could not use a crossover cable, such as I used to connect just two machines with no hub. Oops. Fortunately the modem had come with the right kind of cable.

All right. Only it still did not connect. Then I discovered a small line in Tim's mail: "...every time you boot the Mac, it will dynamically connect to the server (your cable modem's IP server) to get a TCP/IP address." Ah, I had to reboot the Mac!! You know, I did have a feeling there was something I needed to do to make the connection "take." But these things are not intuitive, they change all the time. (For instance when I started on the Net in the mid-nineties, there was a lot of work with getting the right "modem initialization string", a set of meaningless letters and numbers you had to write into the modem control panel under system 7.5. This is now quietly gone. Thing are getting better, slowly.)

So I set the TCP/IP control panel with the Mac connected to the modem provided by the cable company, rebooted, and boom, online! Yipee.

Wonderful. Sure, it is not anywhere close to perfect yet. Particularly the speed of the WWW is dependent upon the general traffic on the Net, and the server, and the complexity of the page. But in general, it varies between two and ten times faster than the experience I have with a modem and that is not bad!

Yours, Eolake Stobblehouse

is a contributing editor to the Mac Observer, specializing in cultural matters, and comes to us by way of MacCreator. Comments invited.

The title of this column, "Fuzzy Logic", refers to an attempt to view the larger issues without getting lost in the details. Sort of "squinting" at things:) Of course it is also the term for an attempt in computing to get computers to look at the world like it is, in a spectrum of grays, instead of 1 and 0, or Black and White.

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