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Adventures in Linux: A Redhat Newbie Boldly Treks Onto the Internet Frontier

By A. Cliff Seruntine, cliff@micronet.net

Ever tried using chat to dial out with your modem? If you have, then after a few hours of mind-numbing inproductivity you may have found yourself developing an odd, convulsive twitch and banging your head against your monitor? Another dozen hours of typing in reworded chat scripts and you will find yourself wishing the program was a living, tangible entity so you could delete it once and for all out of the known universe, and thus gain a measure of relief knowing that you have spared others the terrible ordeal of sitting in front of their monitors for perhaps days on end coding pleas for chat to just dial the #!%$ telephone. Truthfully, I have found few programs under any of the operating systems I am familiar with give me the jitters the way chat does.

I recall one frosty summer morning (I live in Alaska, so I can honestly describe some summer mornings as being frosty) when I boldly set off where no Microsoft hacker has gone before-Linux, the final frontier. Well, that's a bit extreme. Many Microsoft hackers have seen the light and made the transition. Anyway, I had decided I was going to resist Bill Gatus of Borg, and not be assimilated, so I put a new hard drive in my computer, downloaded Redhat Linux 4.1 from Redhat's ftp server (a two day ordeal with a 33.6 modem, I might add) and read enough of the install documentation to get started.

Now friends already familiar with the Linux OS offered to come by and help me set it up. But I'd have none of it. After all, I owned a computer and electronics service center. I was the expert. And I was firmly convinced that the best way to truly learn something is to plow through it yourself. So I sat down in front of my PC with a cup of tea, made the two required floppy disks for a hard drive install, and began my voyage into Linux gurudom.

About 45 minutes later I was surprised to discover that I was done. Linux had been installed on my system and little fishies were swimming around my monitor in X windows. Well, I was impressed with myself. "Hah!" I said to the walls. "They said it couldn't be done. Not without background. Not without experience. But I've showed them. I've showed them all! Hah! Hah! Hah!" And then, being the compulsive hacker that I am, I began to do what comes naturally. I hacked. And being the Net buff that I am, the first thing I decided to do was get on the Internet through Linux. And all the stuff I'd read about in my printed copy of the works of the Linux Documentation Project said that the way to dial out with Linux was through chat.

Four days later I found myself on my knees in front of my computer, wearily typing in yet another reworded script for chat, half plea, half incantation, hoping beyond reason that this time chat would perform the miracle I had so long sought and just dial the $#%! phone. Yes, I was by that time a broken man. Worse, a broken hacker. My spirit was crushed. My unique identity was in peril. I could hear Bill Gatus in the distance, but getting closer, closer, saying, "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." Resigned to my fate, I wrung my hands, achy and sore from writing enough script variants to fill a novel the size of War and Peace, and prepared to type halt and reboot into Windows 95.

Then a voice said, "Luke. Luke! Use the X, Luke!" I don't know why the voice was calling me "Luke" since my name is Cliff, but somehow I knew to trust that voice. I moved the cursor onto the background, clicked, and opened up the applications menu. There I found a nifty little program called Minicom. I clicked on Minicom, it opened, initialized the modem, and a press of [CTRL-a, d] brought up the dial out options. I selected the edit option with the arrow keys, and at the top entered the name and number of my server. Then I selected the dial option with the arrow keys, and pressed [RETURN]. The X was with me, the modem dialed out, logged into my server, and with a beep announced that I should press any button. Minicom then asked me to enter my login name and password. I breathed a sigh of relief, opened up Arena, typed in an address, and . . . nothing happened. Worse, after about a minute, the modem hung up.

"What?" I wondered aloud, squinting into my monitor, certain that behind the phosphorescent glow I could see little Bill Gatuses frantically chewing away the inner workings of my computer. "Join me, Cliff," they were saying. "It is your destiny."

"I'll never join you," I cried out and whipped out my Linux Encyclopedia. I couldn't find anything in the index on how to avoid assimilation, but I did find out that I needed to activate the ppp daemon and give control of the connection from Minicom to the daemon. The command line that worked best was:

pppd /dev/cua2 115200 -detach crtscts modem defaultroute

is the most important option to include here. It causes the daemon to take over control of the modem from Minicom. pppd activates the Point to Point Protocol daemon. /dev/cua* should be given whatever number corresponds to the serial port your modem is attached to, as long as you have a serial modem. 115200 is the max speed of my modem with compression. You should set this to the max speed of your own modem. crtscts tells your modem to negotiate high speed transmissions. modem simply indicates the daemon should use the modem as its means of networking. It is a default setting, but I like to set it anyway to remind me whats going on. And defaultroute tells the daemon which route the incoming and outgoing data are going through.

The trick is to enter all this before the Minicom connection times out. You could go through the trouble writing it out every time you log on, but a better way is to edit an alias in .bashrc. Go down to the /root directory and type emacs .bashrc (or whatever your prefered editor is) and enter the line below as follows:

alias daemon = <pppd /dev/cua* <your modem speed> -detach crtscts modem

(Do not forget the quotes or your alias will not function.)

Finally, go into the control panel, double click on the networking icon, and select the last tab that appears. There you will find near the top the option to set your default gateway and your device. Set your default gateway to whatever your Internet server specifies. Specify your device as /dev/cua (whatever serial port your modem is attached to). Sometimes simply /dev/modem will work if it has been symbolically linked in your system. (By the way, if you haven't already done it, in X you also need to double click the modem icon in the control panel and set your modem to the correct /dev/cua(serial port number) there too). And if you have a SLIP account (rare these days) add the pertinent info while setting up your gateway.

Reboot your system. Now your new alias and settings will all be in effect. Now just invoke Minicom and dial out. Then at xterminal type daemon. Minicom will beep at you for taking away its control of the modem. To be on the safe side, I like to kill Minicom to make sure it stops fighting with the daemon for control of the modem. Occasionally it will succeed and weird things will happen. Then invoke your browser and you are on the World Wide Web.

As a final note, Arena's HTML is kind of weak, and you may find it locking up with newer, more powerful web code. It is a good idea to download a more capable browser such as Netscape 3.01, which makes a fine Linux browser, and install and use that as soon as possible.

And that's all there is to taking your Linux webship onto the Information frontier. Well, I'm enjoying my time on the web. I think I'll build a new site dedicated to stopping the assimilation.

Copyright © 1997, Cliff Seruntine
Published in Issue 19 of the Linux Gazette, July 1997