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The home team scores!

Posted by joeabbott on January 4, 2010

I usually write about the “wins” … things that are fun and enjoyable, great riches bestowed me and Suzanne (either through things or experiences) or stuff like that. No sense complaining … especially when there’s so much to be grateful for.

But, there are a lot of setbacks, big and small, that cause extra work. Neither Suzy nor I mind a bit more work, so it’s not so bad. Like today, as I was taking down holiday lights, I noticed that I should clean the gutters … and so I did. Not a biggie, just some work that had to be done.

There’s been one problem, however, that’s had a couple different shapes over the years that we finally figured out and think we have nailed. And we’re all the happier for the situation. I thought I’d write a bit about that.

The first problem started back in early 2007. I wanted to play a game called Lord of the Rings Online. For those of you into MMORP (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing) games, you’ve probably heard of it. It’s not the biggest, arguably not the best, but it is based on Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and that makes it very cool (to me!). It’s like the game World of WarCraft (WoW) … but based on the characters, races, geology and history of the Lord of the Ring’s world, Middle-earth. I knew I wasn’t going to be a big player, but they had a free beta and so I signed up and was accepted.

I really liked it and glad that I didn’t keep with it. I could tell that I’d lose many hours to playing that game. Tedious minutes, hours, and days repetetively completing minor “quests” or grinding away at simple activities to gain experience or expertise. For some reason, I find little tedium in that; like watching fish in a tank. But, I didn’t. In part by design, in part because I’m  cheap frugal, and in part because I’d had a number of “latency issues”.

The latency problem would manifest itself in that my character on the screen would sometimes freeze while I could hear the sounds of the world progressing around him (my character was an elf named “Solitude”). Then, I’d unfreeze and have suffered the fate of the lost time. Sometimes NPCs (non-player characters … computer controlled people) would be waiting on me, sometimes the many other characters running around the world would be long gone, and (as often as not) some bad thing that I was beating on would have just taken 3-5 seconds of non-activity to beat me into death. Not fun.

I tried a number of things including updating my router’s firmware but nothing helped. I tired of the intermittent problems and the beta ended and so my foray in MMORPs died then and there. I blamed something in my system, most likely the router, and went on with my computer life as a loner.

Then, a year or so later, I got an Xbox 360 and my friend Pete offered to teach me the ins and outs of online play. We settled on backgammon, I think. Anyhow, I was connected wirelessly through my router (while playing LotR Online I was hardwired in through my computer) and during our 45 minutes or so of play, I dropped offline about 8 times. Now during those games, it was never clear who dropped, but Pete assured me that he played online all the time and this never happened to him. Darned odd and it kept me from playing online with others … no sense subjecting someone to mysterious drops.

But, I’ve been a loner on game play enough that it never bothered me too much. I did go online on the Xbox one other time with my friend Heath to get some tag-team achievements in Fable II. I had no problems, but the play-time was brief.

Anyhow, I managed to write this blog, upload a massive amount on Flickr, and work remotely telecommuting a bunch of times and never had other problems. I chalked it up to “something” and didn’t bother.

Then Suzy tried to post our web site.

Up until now, we’ve owned “JoeAndSuz.com” but done very little with it. A few of my friends would laugh at the half-@$# job that I’d done with my simple html hacking but the site was being hosted for free and I just never got into being a web jockey. But, Suzanne got the web design bug, used some neat software, and created a pretty cool site. We updated the software to FTP up to JoeAndSuz and then let it rip. As it was Mac software, it took a bit to get things sorted out and then, just before our Iceland trip, it looked like we had it! But … FAIL.

Every file that was over about 600 kb (or some such size … I actually forget the actual limit), the file would fail to be uploaded; all other files would zip through. Retrying wouldn’t help but when I took a USB drive to work and promptly uploaded everything, we knew we had a problem in the house. Dang.

But I called Comcast and during a long conversation they agreed to bump me up to 12 mbps and assured me the problem was at my house. OK, I was starting to get winded but knew this issue would be a marathon.

I did a bunch of reading and finally came across a configuration guide that, in a section titled Timeouts on large files, states 

If you can transfer small files just fine, but transfers of larger files end with a timeout, then there is a broken router and/or firewall between the client and the server that is causing this problem. …  In other words, all routers and firewalls that are dropping idle connections too early are broken, they just cannot be used for long FTP transfers. Unfortunately manufacturers of consumer-grade router and firewall vendors do not care about specifications, all they care about is getting your money and thus only deliver barely working lowest quality junk.

Aha! I knew the router was the problem!

Unfortunately, over a bunch of other conversations and debugging, lots of my friends had this router (Linksys WRT45G make that Linksys WRT54G … score one for Mike!). And I’d never really seen any other problems uploading large files … most of my Flickr pictures far exceed whatever size seemed to be haunting the FTP upload. But I was on the path to getting a new router and I’d be darned if incomplete information would stop me! 🙂

When we got back from Iceland Suzanne asked me what router I was looking at and before I could stop her, it was ordered up from Amazon.com and on our doorstep. The DLink DIR-825. This is a router some of the people on my work’s Xbox mailing list swore by and it seemed like it would keep me happy for a long time. After a day or two of dragging my feet, I headed upstairs (I think it was the day after Christmas) and started setting it up.

And over the next few hours I found a bunch of stuff. First, the router would never connect to the Internet. I could see it from either my PC or the wife’s Mac and when we took the router out of the network, I could get to the Internet. I called the DLink support line and the first tier tech had me trying cables and swapping out the router and rebooting and resetting and who knows what all. He ultimately stated that it was something on my end but as we could never get to the Internet he recommended sending back the unit for replacement. OK.

We called Amazon the next day and before we had the old unit back in it’s box, they were sending out a replacement (love that company). I got the replacement on Tuesday, 12/29 and dragged my feet. I guess I was getting tired.

The next day I plugged it in and experienced the same problems. I called tech support at DLink and was bumped to second tier support … yay! I had high hopes!

Unfortunately, I got “Aris”, the tech support person with absolutely zero customer apathy. He talked softly (even after I repeatedly asked him to speak louder and repeat himself), he never worked with me (just told me what to do), and was basically professional but an unlikable little prig. Finally, after enough rebooting and swapping and resetting (again), we got to a state where my machine got an Internet IP address but no DNS addresses. What this means is that I should have been able to type in a URL like http://207.46.232.182 and get to the Microsoft site, but if I typed http://www.microsoft.com it wouldn’t resolve.

But, before trying anything like that, “Aris” (and it could have been “Harris” or “Uris” or “Kathy” or who knows what … he never spoke loud enough or gave me the courtesy of a decent introduction) told me to contact Comcast and he hung up. Hate the guy.

So I called Comcast and this is where things improve. I got “Steven” (or “Stephen” or whatever but he was great) and he pretty much said, “this is an odd situation to hand over to Comcast but it seems like you’ve had enough run-around, let’s figure out what’s going on.” Who wouldn’t love a tech support guy like that?!

While I was massively dumping all the data I could think of on the guy, pretty much everything I’m typing here, I also mentioned that we were promised a bump to 12 mbps and it never seemed to happen. I then asked about my modem … it’s a Sufboard 3100 … is that still an OK modem? I really didn’t know what would make a modem good or bad, I just assumed it passed the signal through and that was it. But, over the course of the next hour, Steven decided that the modem was the culprit. It was old enough to be on their “obsolete” list and everything else seemed like it should work. He wasn’t sure, but gave me some options, recorded our conversation in my customer records, and told me where to find the nearest Comcast offices where I could get my modem replaced. He even bumped me up to 16 mbps for the next year, for free. Love that guy.

And so that’s what Suzanne and I did yesterday morning. The Comcast office was miserable … it seemed hidden away, there was a line out to the door, and everyone seemed to be in a lousy mood. When it was our turn, Suzy was bright and cheery, we had all the paperwork and info we needed, and at one look the clerk said, “wow, that’s old” and so a new modem was in our hands lickety split. A Cisco 2100 cable modem … at about a quarter the size of our old modem, it seemed modern.

At home I had a bite to eat before heading upstairs … no telling how long this would take but everything worked immaculately. Mostly.

The modem registration seemed to have a hiccup but within an hour we had the modem in, our DIR-825 router working, both our computers, our laptops, our cell phones, and the Xbox were all on our secure channel on the Internet and surfing at really fast speeds. And, as the final litmus test, we uploaded a new and improved JoeAndSuz.com set of pictures (with video from Iceland) and it worked flawlessly!

I haven’t tried playing online games … too many chores today with taking down our holiday decorations, grilling steaks (yes, it was that nice out), and, as I mentioned, cleaning gutters … but I have no fear that it’ll be fine. So ultimately it was a Comcast thing and we may not have had to upgrade our router but we’re now on an N Dual Band Gigabit connection. Hey, not sure what that means but it sounds better than “still on that router I got back in 2002”. 😉

So, all of this should be filed in the “why should I care” folder but it was such a long debugging problem I couldn’t help but to record it. Hope you’re not having issues and, if you are … no, I will not fix your computer!

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3 Responses to “The home team scores!”

  1. Hotspringer said

    Congratulations on the 16mbs!
    However, if you are enjoy being frugal, why in the heck are you renting your modem from Comcast. We have found that the payoff between renting and buying both the router and the wireless router was less than 2 years. If you are prudent enough to buy the router, why not the modem?
    (Or maybe Comcast gave you a free promotional modem at one time, if that is the case watch the bill for the monthly rental of the new one.)

    Also, are you sure you were not on a WRT54G router previously (let see if you can correct your blogs).

    I always believed that the modem and router would operate most consistently if they were made by the same company. Guess my assumption is invalid if your Cisco and Dlink are working together with perfection.

    Again, congrats on the 16mbs!

  2. joeabbott said

    Good eye, kitten pie! I was a “54G” router … just like it said in the wikipedia article the link sent you to. Good catch!

    As for the renting of the modem … to be honest, I didn’t know it was an option to buy a cable modem. Never in the market, never cared … just thought that it was a “special” item that Comcast used to push data. As for the router … I just found out talking to Stephen (the Comcast support guy) that if you rent their modem, they’d loan you an N-band router for free! Check out http://www.comcast.com/wirelessrouter for details.

    And, I didn’t bite on that one because I had a significant amount of time invested in learning how to debug and work with the DLink router. I told myself (and Stephen) that if what I was doing didn’t pan out, I’d get the free router and take him up on his offer of free installation. 🙂

  3. […] The home team scores! January 2010 2 comments 4 […]

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