I've dug a bit through the kernel sources.

The timeout is set to one second (zd_usb.c) and it's being honoured like it 
should; the "time ifconfig eth5 up" command reports 

real    0m1.004s

So the reported error is the actual reason for the failure. The device is 
expected to reply to something within one second but in certain cases it 
doesn't. I don't know the driver and kernel internals enough to make more 
assumptions. However this timeout issue brings another strange behaviour I've 
observed sometimes at boot to my mind. It happens that when the kernel says: 

Waiting for /dev to be fully populated...

the machine hangs for quite a long time (one minute or two), then it continues 
booting until it finally hangs forever (at least for more than 1 hour) 
on "Discovering new hardware". This happens only when the adapter is plugged, 
in fact the solution is to unplug it and reboot (hard reboot with power 
button). If I try to reboot without unplugging it I get the same problem 
repeated. After a reboot cycle without the adapter I can plug it in again and 
the boot process becomes normal, until the next time it decides to hang.


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