Cable connections are the last thing most people check…

Fed up with trying to host a network printer on a Windows 7 box on a mixed network, I broke down and bought a Jetdirect card for my aged HP Laserjet 4100. Don’t worry–used Jetdirect cards are cheap these days. I paid $7 for mine.

Of course I made installing it harder than I needed to. I’m a professional. Don’t try this at home.

Yes, I really am a professional. I found out one day, via the men’s room, that I was the new printer administrator. So I went to the nearest printer, fiddled with the control panel, and taught myself how to assign IP addresses to a Jetdirect card so that I’d be prepared when I started getting tickets from the helpdesk. That was a decade ago, and it’s been a good seven years since administering printers was in my official job duties, but I’ve been the unofficial printer administrator everywhere else I’ve been ever since.

I really think installing and configuring Jetdirect cards is designed to be a 30-minute job. It took me a couple of tries to get the card seated properly, but admittedly I wasn’t working in a proper work area. I pulled the printer out from under my itty-bitty desk and worked without unplugging the parallel cable. Then I configured the IP address, just as I did in the days when people still had Palm Pilot envy, 128 megabytes was a lot of memory, and Red Hat had a bigger market capitalization than Apple. Then I plugged the spare network cable from the spare network port behind my desktop PC into the printer.

And then the printer didn’t work. My computers couldn’t see it on the network, the printer didn’t respond to pings, and the printer’s configuration page indicated all 19 network packets it had tried to send were unsendable.

Re-seating the card helped, briefly. Then I put the printer back on the shelf, went to one of the laptops to configure it, and it couldn’t see the printer. Then the desktop machine that was seeing the printer two minutes before couldn’t see it either. Crud.

Years ago, in one of Jerry Pournelle’s last Byte columns, he wrote: “Cable connections are the last thing most people check. Make them the first thing you check.” For years I had that quote hanging in my cubicle at work. So I checked both ends of the network cable. Still nothing. So what to do then? Replace the cable, of course.

The cable wasn’t in the best of shape. Although it had worked the last time I used it, the jacket was no longer crimped under the RJ-45 connector, which is a no-no. I found a never-used CAT5 cable in my stash, which is fine for this printer’s 100-megabit connection, plugged it in, and the printer and the computers could see each other again.

Back in those days when Red Hat was a more valuable company than Apple, we didn’t worry much about these things. Networks ran at 10 megabits, and you could get away with a lot. Today, networks are much faster, and much more sensitive. Many people regard network cables as single-use items that you replace any time you move or replace the device they plug into. When time is money and cables cost $2 in quantity, it’s easier to just replace cables than to figure out whether the old ones are working.

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