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May 15, 2006

The Stress of Losing Your Internet Connection

Sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning we lost our home Internet connection, due to equipment failure (more on that below). I had not realized just how stressful it can be to have no Internet. Now I certainly go on vacation and don't use the Internet for a week, but I've come to depend on it at home. For one thing, I like to do a quick scan of my work email before I go to sleep. Also, we were going to Las Vegas for the weekend and we wanted to print our boarding passes from home, get a list of Vegas poker tournaments, find out about the spa at Mandalay Bay...all things that people used to do 15 years ago, somehow, but which we now depend on the Internet for. Plus we were waiting for email from our daughter's softball coach about a possible game on Sunday. And my sisters-in-law, who were coming up to watch the kids, expected to be able to surf the net, print out THEIR boarding passes, etc. Instead we all got to suffer form IDS (Internet Deprivation Syndrome).

So what was wrong? Well, the immediate thing I noticed was that the DSL router had no lights on, not even the power light. I futzed around with it and couldn't make anything turn on, so I called Verizon to ask about a new one. Of course it's a custom part you can't just buy in a store. They said fine, they would send me a new one--by UPS Ground from Pennsylvania, which takes about a week. Was there any way they could send it faster? No, only UPS Ground. I think they were trying to save me money, and in fact they gave me a month's credit of DSL service (which was very nice of them), but I really didn't want a $30 credit, I wanted my Internet service. There's an economic term for this I'm sure, when something like Internet service is worth much more to you than you actually pay for it (the term is probably something like They Should Be Charging You More For It Syndrome). I was perfectly willing to pay Verizon to overnight the thing to me, but they said they couldn't do it. What's that called...Refusal To Accept Money You Want To Pay Syndrome, I think.

So I grumbled about Verizon and flew off to Vegas and was therefore somewhat surprised when the new DSL modem showed up the next day, no extra charge. So what is THAT called--We Actually Gave You Great Customer Service But We Pretended We Weren't Going To Syndrome? Unfortunately when my sister-in-law plugged in the new modem, which looked to be an identical copy of the existing one, the Internet still didn't work.

When I got back I played around with it and still couldn't get it to work. It worked if I connected my computer directly to the modem but not through our firewall/router. I could tell the machines were hitting the router because they were getting assigned DHCP addresses by it. So the problem appeared to be in the firewall/router's Internet port. Finally tonight I bought a new firewall/router and hooked it up, and now things are working again. So that could have been the problem, except the old DSL modem definitely had something wrong, because its power light wasn't coming on. So either they both crapped out at the same time (power surge? But they are on a surge protector), or the firewall/router was sending such a strange signal over the Internet port that it was messing up the DSL modem, which seems hard to believe (I did not try disconnecting the cable to the old modem, since it didn't occur to me that this could be causing a problem). I suppose I should connect up the old DSL modem to see if it now works, but I don't have the energy and I'm still vaguely afraid that if I take the current setup apart, it won't work when I reconnect it.

As I was working on this I was wondering how an average home user would handle this (meaning the situation where they plugged in the new DSL modem and it still didn't work). If they called Verizon the first thing they would have them do is take the firewall/router out of the loop and connect the computer directly to the DSL modem, which worked, so then Verizon would be done. And the firewall/router support would probably verify that the device was handing out DHCP addresses, observe the status page saying that it was receiving zero packets off the DSL line (which was the case), and wash their hands of the problem. I guess the user would wind up calling the Geek Squad or somebody, who would come out, scratch their heads for a while, and eventually sell them a new firewall/router. But this stuff is still very fragile and is not at the level of end user maintainability of something like a stereo system.

Posted by AdamBa at May 15, 2006 09:33 PM

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The power and flexibility of PC's, our network and their applications are increasing much faster than their ease of use and maintainability, no?

I do think things are getting easier and slowly getting closer to self-diagnosing, self-healing networks and computers. But that's a long way off still. I've personally come to terms with the fact that until that time people either need to learn basic network handyman stuff or call the Geek Squad.

This is an important thing to keep in mind for software marketers....

Posted by: Kayvaan at May 16, 2006 07:04 AM

Power surge could come from the power lines too.

You could probably check the ethernet ports by connectiong them to PC NIC. If they can't negotiate 100mbp then they are fried.

Also surge suppressors are very dependent on proper zeroing/grounding.

Posted by: Ivan at May 16, 2006 07:21 AM