The Saga of Change

March 2, 2002

After more than 15 years working with PCs, I have learned that any hardware change is liable to cause unexpected side effects like a chain of falling dominoes. Here is my latest story of change.

It all started when my new neighbor moved in and permanently parked his motorcycle right in front of my office window. This blocked the view of the webcam attached to computer number 1, which normally sat on the windowsill, looking out.

So, I decided to figure out a way to raise the webcam higher, and look out over the motorcycle. I rigged an aluminum bracket that clamps to the windowframe and holds the camera with the screw in its base. This all works great, but now I can't easily move the webcam to look inside the office when Rhonda wants to watch me working.

So, I decided I would buy another webcam for inside viewing. I found a parallel port webcam on eBay at a reasonable price and bought it. When it arrived I prepared to attach it to computer number 2, which is my only Windows computer that doesn't already have a webcam attached.

But, computer number 2 already had both parallel ports occupied and no empty ISA slots. One port was used for my EPROM programmer, and the other for my printer. Moving the EPROM programmer wasn't really an option, so I decided to move the printer to computer number 3, in the back of the office.

Computer number 3 had some empty ISA slots, so I installed a new parallel port board and loaded the appropriate Windows driver to support it. I then made room for the printer and moved it to its new location and connected all the wires and installed the driver files via the network (from computer number 2).

Now, with a free parallel port on computer number 2, I installed the webcam and loaded the driver software. The camera seemed to be working OK, but the colors were all weird. Ah, I remembered, this is the same effect I got with the webcam on computer number 1 when I played Starcraft. The problem was that Starcraft ran in 256 color mode instead of high color and this apparently caused the weirdness with the webcam. The video mode on computer number 2 was set to 256 color mode, and was causing the same problem.

So, I tried to set the color depth on computer number 2 to high color and found that I couldn't. The video board didn't support any more than 256 colors. I decided I would swap video boards with computer number 4, which didn't need high color video anyway.

So, I shut down computers 2 and 4 and swapped video boards. The bracket on the board from computer number 4 had been modified to fit in a low-profile case, and I had to use pliers and straighten it out. It then fit into computer number 2, and although I couldn't screw it down (with the modified bracket), as long as I don't tug on the video cable it should be OK. The bracket on the video board which was originally in computer number 2 now sticks up higher than the case on computer number 4, but that's OK, since I run computer number 4 without the case top anyway.

Now, with a new video board in computer number 2, I was able to set the video color depth to 32 bit mode, and the webcam now works fine. But, the webcam cable didn't reach the location where I wanted to put the camera, so I had to move the whole computer to a corner of my desk (along with the EPROM programmer).

After clearing off the corner of my desk I moved computer number 2. The network cable I was using now no longer reached to the computer, so I had to switch to a longer network cable, as well as plugging everything into a different power strip. I also had to use an extension serial cable on computer number 2 to reach the plotter.

But, finally I have a new webcam and every thing is working again. Until next time...


Electrongate computer network description

Computer 1 Pentium 133, 64Mb RAM, Windows 98 Peripherals: Scanner, front window webcam
Computer 2 i486, 40Mb RAM, Windows 98 Peripherals: Plotter, EPROM programmer, inside webcam
Computer 3 Pentium 166, 32Mb RAM, Windows 98 Peripherals: Printer, back window webcam
Computer 4 AMD K6-450, 64Mb RAM, FreeBSD 3.3 Peripherals: none
Computer 5 Pentium II-300, 64Mb RAM, FreeBSD 4.3 Peripherals: none
Computer 6 Dual Pentium Pro 200, 384Mb RAM, FreeBSD 4.3 SMP Peripherals: DLT tape drive, two CD-ROM drives, modem
Computer 7 Pentium 60, 24Mb RAM, FreeBSD 2.2.5 Peripherals: modem