Andy's Adventures Underground

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Andy's Adventures Underground


It was dark. Well, no, that's not exactly true. There was light, cast by a flashlight I was clutching in my hand. What it revealed -- dirt, cobwebs, jutting pipes and hanging wires -- wasn't anything I was interested in looking at, trapped on my belly, face down in a carpet of fine brown crud.

I was in the crawl space under our 25-year-old California tract house, pulling a Cat-5 Ethernet cable, an orange heavy-duty power cord and my trusty Black and Decker electric drill (complete with drill bit case) behind me.

And as I lay there, breathing dirt like it was the perfume of Nefertiti and dragging myself along like a snake, I wondered, "How exactly did I get here?"

How indeed. The road to my current predicament was a long, twisted one, a story that has yet to fully play itself out. It started off innocently enough, at a sign that said, "The Way to Home Networking Starts Here."

What was that old saw about what the road to Hell is paved with? All I know is the road to my own, personal Hell started off with only the best intentions.

My significant other and I are both, as we like to say here in the Valley, "in technology." When we decided it was time for us to buy our first house together -- one big enough to accommodate our "merged" family (we both have children from previous marriages) -- we got to choose from a startling array of palatial homes. That's right, we were about to engage in the Sisyphean task of finding a house within our price range here in the San Francisco Bay Area. You know, the only place on Earth where the housing prices make even downtown Tokyo look like a bargain.

Add what we could afford and the seller's market we live in to the fact that there was only one school district that met all our requirements, and the result was an immediate reduction of our list of potential dwellings down to zero. As in: Nada. Nothing. What are you kidding?

If it hadn't been for an evening sojourn to visit a friend, we might never have found our dream home. Certainly, if we'd found it in the daylight, we wouldn't have considered it a dream. The outside of our house is so '70s you half expect to see Starsky and Hutch pull up in a bright red Ford Grand Torino at any moment. Luckily, most of the interior had been refurbished sometime after The Dukes of Hazzard had been cancelled by the previous owner, an Intel chip engineer. (We would later discover some very interesting things about the way Intel chip engineers like to do things, that, in hindsight, should have been obvious from the beginning.)

But our first look at the house came when it was dark. And so when we called the real estate agent, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

I won't bore you with the details (well, at least anymore than I already have). After considerable gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, not to mention financial contortions that would have made Houdini proud, we had our delightful little slice of the American Dream. And once we had it, we immediately began to make plans. Yes. Plans. Many, many plans.

First on our list of improvements (in California, everyone who buys a house immediately gets to work changing it, because almost no one can afford to buy a place that's "just right" to begin with) was building a home infrastructure. Remember those happy days of a few paragraphs ago when you thought this column might actually be about something to do with computers? You know, where I mentioned that my S.O. and I are in technology? Well, we both thought, "Gee, wouldn't it be cool if we had a constant, high-speed connection to the Internet and could then, as a result, have our own Web, e-mail and file server in our living room and have our entire house wired for Ethernet?"

Okay, it was really me who thought that. Jill was more of the, "Uh-huh, sure, I'll believe it when I see it" school of thought.

Well, being a man, even the highly enlightened sort all my friends will no doubt sign legal affidavits attesting that I am, I couldn't leave such a challenge alone. You see, it now became a point of personal honor that I could, indeed, pull off this feat of digital prestidigitation. There was no holding me back. Nosiree, it was Home Network or Bust!

So I went to it. Hour upon hour of research, late-night study, and careful strategizing, lead me to my incontrovertible first step:

Call Jason Snell, Macworld's resident expert on all things Internet, and ask him what to do.

Be sure to tune in for the next installment of Andy's Adventures Underground: Pacbell DSL and other oddities of nature.

Questions? Comments? E-mail them to Andy at An archive of past Gorey Details columns is also available.

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