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Life without Internet

Posted by joeabbott on June 7, 2015

Nothing points to the fact that we’ve assumed a “connected life” like spending a week without (easy) Internet connectivity. While I had at one point thought, “this won’t be so bad … it’ll allow us to slow down and enjoy life”, it was simply maddening. It seemed everywhere we turned, we were thwarted by lack of access. Here’s how this experiment played out.

It’s not working

A Saturday morning or two ago, I finally decided it was time to take the cord that had snaked from my office at the back of the house and pull it into the attic to drop it down in Suzy’s office (at the front of the house). While our home really isn’t that big (it just isn’t), we’ve had problem getting the wireless Wi-Fi modem that’s in my office to cover the full house.

In the past we tried both adding a repeater and using the IP power control system (wifi through electrical outlet), but neither could touch just plugging a wire into the back of the machine … that is, using a wired connection.

When I reported to Suzy that, from my computer (that’s wired) I was seeing download speeds in excess of 50Mbps, she was only able to get up around 10-12Mbps … which is respectable but nowhere near what I was seeing … well, she agreed to letting me run a wire through the house.

At first the wire was on the floor, then tucked up under floorboards, but ultimately it crossed the hall and we had to drape a carpet over it. So, it was time to go into the attic.

While I may have contracted a minor case of miners’ lung (yes, Mom, I wore a mask), I was able to get the wire up, attached it loosely to the rafters, and dropped down by Suzy’s office. I then tested everything and was happy with the results. All good.

Later in the day, however, our wireless was out. No problem, I just need to “bump” the router. That is, cycle it off and then back on. Frustrating but it happens now and then. Hmmm … that didn’t fix it.

Then I noticed our wired connections were out. Also odd … but, things just weren’t working. Time to call Comcast.

While that was a frustration in and of itself, we ultimately got someone to come out the following Wednesday. It felt like a long time to wait for a service call, but it would give me time to trouble check and, as I said, I thought we might enjoy a slower pace without Internet.

Grrrr

Over the next few days, I became increasingly annoyed. Nothing I had done seemed to have caused the outage, nothing I did seemed to fix it. Ultimately, I kept coming back to the problem being on Comcast’s end, but no one else seemed to be affected. And I kept asking myself, “how did moving a wire from running along the hallway to it’s location through the attic cause this?”

We have a somewhat complex setup, but nothing that’s exotic … just a lotta wires.

The Internet connection comes into the house on the second level, in back. From there, it goes into a modem, from there to a router, and then splits like a crazy hydra. One wire goes to my desktop system, two others go to Xbox systems upstairs, another ran along the floor to a second modem at the front of the house. That modem then feeds a repeater and then Suzy’s two Macintosh computers.

Aside: why two Macintosh computers? Well, one is so old that it can’t take a newer OS and won’t run basic (newer) programs. But, as a second monitor for reviewing pictures and whatnot, it seems perfectly fine.

Over the next couple days I removed all network parts so I could test them; I even removed all the wires that weren’t running through walls! And then I bought a new modem, new router, and even a simple switch. I was determined to find the problem.

No luck

But I failed and so we waited for the Comcast tech.

In the interim, life without the Internet was frustrating. I couldn’t do work from home, catching up on social media was limited to the tiny screens of our phone, and I found my Xboxes really don’t like to not have a connection: programs would stop, load times took forever, and other glitches abound.

Things like scheduling airfare and travel accommodations was put on hold, making changes to the books and movies we get from the library was harder, and the easy email exchange Suzy and I enjoyed stopped for the week. A random fact would come up and I’d reach for my Surface for a quick check … alas. I’d try to load a game on the Xbox … but many require online presence. I’d want to send a quick mail, check up on family on Facebook, or any one of a dozen other things … but couldn’t. It was a long few days.

More no luck

So, when Wednesday came I stayed home from work. Yes, it meant I wasn’t able to work from home that day but this was important.

When the tech got here, I explained the problem and we troubleshot. And shot. And shot some more.

The upshot to all this shooting was that the connection coming into the house was great; never better. But something happened after that. I’d simplified our network to a single machine coming off the modem and even that was sketchy: it’d work sometimes, but not always.

The tech left with my main machine working OK and his words that “it must be in the hardware we have in the house.” Not satisfactory, but it did seem like we had connection. Sometimes.

The rest of that day I played with different setups, different computers, and the various parts. Unfortunately, I was no closer to a solution. At one point a connection would work, I’d unplug it, try another wire (which wouldn’t work), and then go back to the exact same configuration that had worked minutes earlier … and that wouldn’t work.

So I called the Geek Squad.

Waiting for Wi-Fi

Geek Squad is a Best Buy off-shoot of techs who can help you with your computer problems. As a long-time computer savvy fella, this felt like surrender on a massive scale, but I just wanted my Internet back. They’d be out the following Sunday.

Over the next couple of days I talked to folks at work; one of the guys even called me at home and we ran ipconfig and ping testing. It seemed that I was dropping packets over 50k in size; he even conjectured someone was doing a DDOS on the network in my area and my configuration was sensitive to it while others weren’t. It was perplexing to me.

And then I had lunch with Charlie. On hearing my story Charlie got a wry grin, nodded his head and said, “just bite the bullet and go back to the Comcast modem, dude.”

A few months back I’d bought my own modem; it was Comcast-approved and others were using it successfully, but he said the same, the exact same thing happened to him and when he went to the Comcast modem, everything sorted itself out.

I was dubious but was willing to throw money at the problem. Yes, while the modem rental is only $7 a month, over a year of rental you could pay for your own modem … and then use that same device for years after. But, I called Comcast to come out, canceled Geek Squad support, and waited.

It’s a beautiful day

Sunday came, as did the Comcast tech, who thought my story and situation was odd. He gave me the, “what do you know” look, but over the hour or so of showing him what I did, talking through the ipconfig and ping work, showing him how I’d debugged things, well, he started talking to me more as a technical peer than some clueless customer … and yet we were both clueless.

In the end he pulled out a monster modem/router combo that we plugged in and spent 15 minutes configuring. And then, well, everything we plugged in, every configuration we tried … everything … just worked.

Like it should. Like you’d expect. Like it was before!

He left and I still had a mess of wires and devices on the floor but my main machine, Suzy’s Macintoshes, and our Wi-Fi was back. Gloriously back.

Since then

The problems have been good in that it’s allowed us to simplify our system. I removed a repeater we had as part of the network as we just didn’t need it. I’ve also gone back and updated the second router back to its proper name. As part of my testing and validations, I’d reverted back to the factory settings.

But, I have a small pile of cables and devices that I no longer need. I’ll keep them handy for future troubleshooting but, for now, I’m back up and wired in!

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