I switched the firmware over from the 'stable' but aging WhiteRussian over to the new and supposedly improved Kamikaze. I assumed it would have more up to date versions of the tools I was using, as WhiteRussian was out of date. I also did a bit of tinkering with the layout of my network as well. That last bit is the important part. WhiteRussian and other WRT54 specific distributions save their configuration information in the NVRAM, so it can be saved when reflashing. Kamikaze took a more general approach, and would only import settings from NVRAM. Instead, it would save everything to a flat file format. So my router still held all the old settings from before I switched over.
When push came to shove, I was having problems configuring the firewall to forward connections to different servers in Kamikaze. Again, I might have been missing some crucial detail, but the WebIF interface is incomplete, and madifying text files did not do the trick. I began shopping around, and came across Tomato, a modification of the original Linksys firmware with a very snazzy interface. I decided to give it a try. When I installed it, however, my computer failed to get an IP address from DHCP. When I gave it its old IP as a static IP, that didn't work either. I assumed the worst.
Thanks to a few pointers, I figured out how to get into the emergency TFTP mode, and reflash the firmware. Realizing that a) I successfully reflashed the firmware, without needing any JTAG madness, and b) the problems continued with Tomato, I figured maybe the router was good, and something inside Tomato was broken. On a whim, I tired the older IP address that it used from the WhiteRussian era. Suprisingly it worked, so well that I could get to the snazzy web interface. There I found out that Tomato started with DHCP Disabled!
I cannot stress how bad that is for a piece of wireless software that prides itself on its interface to be lacking DHCP. It boggles my mind that someone forgot to enable the technology that lets you plug things in and go. Even more surprising is the level of quality in everything else in Tomato. The web interface manages to present pretty much every standard use feature one would expect from a router, plus everything possible directly with the WRT54. There are so many settings there that I never knew existed, and certainly never would have found in OpenWRT. For example, apparently, you can increase the transmission power of the wireless antenna up to 25 times the default. I am now able to get a wireless signal in my sun room on the other side of my house. With a bit of overclocking and extra powerful cooling, I'm sure I could make the connection reach all the way across the street to my neighbors. I think I might just have to blog sometime about some of the other fun things exposed by Tomato.
So what went wrong? Lack of community standards in configuration settings for WRT54 firmwares. Pure negligence or stupidity on one person's part, and just an overall panicked nature from yours truly. Thanks a lot to everyone who had something helpful to say, and the 15 or so internet sites I pieced together everything from.