Sunday, December 26, 2010

Internet service preventer

Zapped by the Death Star

My day began. It was still dark, but that's winter for you. I tend to wake up rather slowly, so I dragged myself to my computer to check my e-mail. Hmm. Nothing since 1:30 in the morning. Slightly unusual.

Then I noticed the error messages from my e-mail program. They indicated that both my personal and school in-boxes could not be accessed. I looked at the modem.

Rats. The Internet light was out. I rebooted my computer and watched the modem lights start to blink as the operating system reloaded and began polling the computer's peripherals. I relaunched Firefox, which splashed my home page on the screen very nicely, but I soon saw that it was just the cached version. No new information was being downloaded. The modem lights were flickering between red and green. It wasn't settling down to the nice steady green I was used to.

Time for breakfast. Let the modem fuss with its DSL access while I scan the morning newspapers and take on some fuel.

When I returned, my Internet connection was still on the fritz. I powered down the modem, powered it back up, and rebooted the computer again. The very Christmasy red-and-green light show returned, but no DSL.

I called the AT&T support line. A very friendly recorded voice told me the number I was calling from. “Is your call related to service on this phone number?” I replied in the affirmative and entered the maze of twisty little passages, all alike, that constitutes AT&T's automated help system. By answering several questions, I eventually managed to get the system to understand that the problem involved my DSL service.

“I need to run some tests on your DSL line,” it said. “Please wait. This may take a few minutes.” I muttered to myself that “DSL line” was surely a redundancy—like “ATM machine” or “PIN number.” The voice ignored me, of course. A different voice thanked me for my patience and various commercial messages assured me that AT&T could sell me services that were much better than anything I currently had from them. I believed the voices.

“I have finished the tests,” announced the original friendly recorded voice at last. Despite our long-established friendship—or at least working relationship—it could not be troubled to tell me what was wrong with my line. Instead it informed me that one in five connection problems could be resolved by powering down the modem and rebooting my system. Had I done that recently?


It suggested I try it again. Grudgingly, I did. With mechanical patience, the disembodied voice waited for me while various commercial messages assured me that AT&T could sell me services that were much better than anything I currently had from them. But I was already quite sure of that.

And it was still no-go. No green Internet light. My life as a denizen of the computer world was in jeopardy.

The recordings suggested visiting a local AT&T store or rebooting my computer. (I did that already! More than once!) It suggested that after visiting a local AT&T store and/or rebooting my computer, I could call back the help line in 24 hours if the problem persisted. Considering the length of time I had been on the line, I wondered if calling back in 23 hours would be considered a trifle hasty.

I hung up the phone and immediately redialed. (Actually, I hit the Redial button on a phone that doesn't even have a dial. Modern life is weird.) The whole process started again, but this time I mashed the zero key for Operator and was rewarded with the digital miracle of a live human voice.

The young woman ascertained that I was having a DSL problem and ran some line tests. She asked me if I had reset the modem and rebooted the computer.

Oh my yes.

She got her test results. She was getting a null response from my modem. She asked which of the display lights were lit up. I looked at the modem again and did a double-take.

Whoa! None of them.

Not even the power light?

Not even that. They're dark. All of them. No red. No green. Nothing.

My modem had gone completely dead. Stone cold. Perhaps the problem was now identified.

The young woman suggested I switch the power cord to a different power source. I did. Still no lights. I reported the same back to her, wondering whether she had put me down as one of those goofballs who don't even notice when they're unplugged. But there were lights earlier. I swear! (The modem had died while waiting in AT&T's emergency room.)

The young woman asked for my Zip code and gave me the addresses of the two nearest AT&T stores, suggesting I take the modem and its power adapter to one of them for testing.

I disconnected the modem from the computer, unplugged the power cord from the power strip, and conveyed the modem and power adapter to the nearer of the two AT&T shops. The assistants looked at my modem with goggle eyes and said, “Oh, we only do cell phones here!”

Uh, thanks.

I went to the second AT&T store. It was a much bigger facility. I took the modem and power adapter up to the counter and explained the situation to a company rep. She carried my distressed equipment to the inner sanctum where they keep their technicians sequestered. A few minutes later she came back out.

“Your modem is fine. The power adapter has failed.”

I felt a sense of relief. Just the power adapter!

“Okay, good. How much is a replacement adapter.”

“Oh, we don't carry those. Power adapters are only sold in a bundle with a modem. Would you like to see our latest modems?”

“You're kidding!”

“Sorry. We don't carry separate power adapters.”

“Thank you for your help. I think it's time for a visit to Radio Shack.”

“Oh, that's probably a good idea,” she admitted.

Soon I had a Radio Shack replacement power adapter, matched to the specs of the original device. Instead of spending $100, I had spent under $20. (I later discovered that the AT&T on-line shop carries the adapter as a separate replacement item for a list price of $10, but the company's fancy service center in my town can't be troubled to have it in inventory.)

Back home, I reconnected the old modem with the new power adapter and was soon rewarded with bright green lights. Hurray! Problem over!


AT&T had reset my password after my service call. After all, my modem had failed and it would be necessary for me to log in as a new user with a new modem and initiate my service anew. When I opened my browser, it informed me that additional log-in information was required before I could access my Internet service. It switched me to an automatic log-in system on the AT&T support page that offered a swift and sure re-initiation process—which failed multiple times. (Perhaps it was upset when it discovered I was using the same old modem.)

I tried one more time, choosing the “manual” mode over the “automatic.” It had me punch in the access code on the bottom of my modem. It asked me for my new password. Did I have one? Was it in the support e-mail that the on-line technician had told me she was sending me (that I couldn't access until after I was logged in)? I dug out my steno pad, where I had been scribbling notes all during the on-line support sessions. (This is one of my very best habits.)


In the midst of all the hassles, the young woman had had me write down a six-character network access code. Was that it? I wasn't starting a new account, so I had not worried too much about it at the time. I didn't really expect to need it. But I tried it.

Log-on successful

It was only six hours after the original discovery that my connection was down. Life was good again.


Karen said...


There, I said it for you.

p.s. Zeno, did you go home for Christmas?

Genomic Repairman said...

Technology and the purveyors of it are pains in the ass.

Kathie said...

I gather you had no problems at Radio Shack. Perhaps times have changed there (I hope due in part to the following protest of mine).

Decades ago I went into the Radio Shack at our local mall (having never been in one before) on a slow weekday afternoon in order to purchase a tiny replacement bulb for a small RS flashlight I'd been given a year or two before. The price for the bulb plus tax was only about 75¢, so I plunked down a dollar bill on the counter and waited for the cashier to ring up my purchase, return my change and hand me my bulb in a tiny bag, so I could catch my bus in time. The following is an approximate reconstruction of the ensuing conversation:

Clerk: That will be 75¢, please. May I have your name, address and home phone number?

Me: Uh, I'm just paying cash for this purchase.

Clerk: I need your name, address and home phone number in order to ring up the purchase.

Me: But this is a cash transaction.

Clerk: I can't ring up your purchase without your name, address and home phone number.

Me: You don't need that information in order to process a cash transaction.

Clerk (increasingly insistent): I have to have your name, address and home phone number in order to ring up all transactions, whether cash or charge.

Me: Why? No other store in this mall has such a requirement for cash purchases. Just ring up my purchase, take my money, give me my correct change and the bulb, so I can be on my way and not miss my bus.

Clerk: I'm not allowed to ring up your purchase without your name, address and home phone number.

Me: Do you want to sell me this bulb or not?

Clerk: Not until you provide this information. It's company policy. You have to give me your name, address and home phone number.

Me: May I please speak to your superior?

Clerk (reluctantly): I'll go get him.


Mgr.: What's the problem here?

Me: The clerk won't allow me to purchase this bulb for cash with my providing my name, address and home phone number.

Mgr.: That's right.

Me: But this is a cash purchase, so you don't need that information.

Mgr.: I'm sorry, but that's corporate policy.

Me: It's a violation of my privacy. I just want to buy this one tiny bulb for cash, and if you don't sell it to me now I'll miss my bus and there's not another one for an hour.

Mgr.: Just give us the information and we can sell you the bulb. Meanwhile I'll go look up the address of Radio Shack corporate headquarters so you can write a letter to them to protest the policy.

Me: Do you want to sell me this bulb or not? If so, please do it now and don't ask for my personal information.

Mgr. (evidently deciding that losing a sale was not good business practice, not to mention clearly eager to be rid of me before any other customers came into the store to witness this what he considered to be a scene): Well, OK, but it's against our policy.

Me: Would you please do me a favor and promise to report to corporate headquarters that one of your customers objected to being asked to provide this personal information in order to make even a small cash purchase?

Mgr. (by now ready to tell me anything I wanted to hear in order to be rid of me): OK.

So-o-o-o, I got my [bleeping] bulb, barely made my bus -- and most importantly, have never, EVER set foot in a Radio Shack or purchased anything from them ever again in my entire life. I do wonder, though, if they rescinded their requirement of name, address and home phone number for cash purchases. If so, I'd like to take at least partial credit for that reform.

Zeno said...

Karen: Yes, I did.

Genomic Repairman: Yes, so often true, but how would we live without the technology?

Kathie: The Radio Shack transaction was quick and painless. Of course, I used a credit card.

Kathie said...

Zeno, strictly in the interests of reporting, you know: next time you make a small purchase at Radio Shack, could you pay cash, then let us know if you have to supply any personal information for the *cough* privilege? Obrigada!

Anonymous said...

Katie: I have a friend who, when going to Radio Shack to buy batteries, gave them the address and phone number of their own store, having memorized them beforehand. No clerk ever seemed to mind, or care. I don't know if this resulted in the store sending itself one copy of their annual catalogue in the mail.

This was in the 1980s in Canada. The Radio Shack brand is extinct here, having been bought by Circuit City. Most former RS stores are called "The Source" and sell pretty much the same thing as Radio Shack did, with fewer electronics parts and more shoddily-made, battery-powered gadgets that one can buy for half the price from dealextreme or focalprice.

I recently found two Radio Shack catalogues from the 1980s at my parents' house. I used to read them cover to cover when I was a prepubescent nerd. I learned the word "cardioid" in the context of microphones, years before encountering the similarly-named curve in calculus. I understood about signal-to-noise ratios from reading descriptions of their hi-fi systems. I begged my parents to buy us a TRS-80 computer (a model 1, mind you, this was before the Color computer). I was fascinated by CB radio and was sorely disappointed years later when I found out it was used mostly to talk about CB radio.

Dr. Pablito said...

Well, Zeno, as an experimental physicist, I could have told you that you need to insert in your solution tree the problem code: "check for power to the device". Seriously, 99% of the time in any device problem, the power is on the fritz.

Zeno said...

Point well taken, Dr. P, but I did mention that my connection failed before the modem's power died. I was getting blinking red and green lights that morning, so the power was there. Presumably the modem couldn't maintain the connection while the power adapter was singing its swan song. (I suspect, however, that the AT&T help rep really believed my modem lights were out all morning and I didn't notice the device was dead until she asked me about it. But if she thought that, she wasn't snide about it.)

Anonymous said...

Only six hours? You one lucky dog. Truly.

Armil@internet service said...

That was really frustrating. Great! that you have figured the problem as early as you figured it out. I have also learned a lesson from your experience.