April 05, 2006

Dumb Stupid ‘Lectricity


A recap--a couple of weeks ago, a certain wife of mine came home late one evening after shopping and seemed miffed that she’d been unable to reach me because I was on the Internet. She didn’t really need me for anything other than to tell me in minute detail everything that came across her mind as she drove from the store to the house, most of which I wouldn’t have remembered anyway, but that did not matter.

It told me I needed to do some checking around and upgrade my computing life so that I would be constantly available should any wife of mine wish to tell me something that simply could not wait. And there was the chafing irritation that I was paying just as much for AOL as I could be paying for superspeedy DSL service from my local phone company.

SO, it was ordered, and only a few days later my shiny new Netopia modem and shiny new CD arrived, and then a couple of days later--Tuesday, March 28, to be exact--the big day arrived when someone in the main office pulled the giant red switch on the wall that let all of the rich, flavorful DSL electrons come cascading into my home. Prior to this, I’d been very conscientious in making sure each of the four telephone jacks in the house had been duly hooked up to the cheap Chinese-made plastic and wire DSL filters, and I had all the various purple and yellow cables routed just so, so that they were actually visible in amongst all the other host of cables laying on the floor beside my computer desk.

Powered up the modem, watched the twinkly lights twinkle, installed the software, and zipped along on the Information Superhighway unencumbered by the hateful 56.6 molasses of dial-up. So excited was I that I called that very evening and fought with the AOL representative in Mumbai to cancel my service.

All well and good and fine and peachy and keen and nice and with big puffy clouds of joy.

Then, we came in Wednesday night, and I powered up the modem, and nothing happened. OH, the power light came on, meaning I had power. And there was a lot of Ethernet traffic that went back and forth between the computer and the modem that told me that I had no connection to the outside world. Well. Hmm. That’s probably a bad thing.

Called the helpful CenturyTel customer service number, told them I was having trouble, went through about thirty minute’s worth of cable swapping, powering up and down, more cable swapping, chanting, dropping chicken blood around the keyboard--nothing worked. The nice young man on the other end said they were awfully sorry, and said they’d send someone out within the next 24-48 hours.

48 hours passed. Friday evening, still no DSL signal.


Called the helpful CenturyTel customer service number, told another nice young man I was having trouble because no one had come by to check on my junk. He said they were awfully sorry, and said they’d send someone out the next day. Which was, as you recall, Saturday, and the day of Oldest’s birthd’y party, and the day in which I tried to visit every single store in town looking to purchase every single useless thing I could find. (And nearly succeeded.)

Right before the party started, burly Sammy showed up (after going to the house down and across the street) and tore into the box on the outside of the house. “Hmm,” said he. “It don’t work.”

After apologizing for my inconvenience, he said he’d run to the central office and see if someone had tripped and fallen over the giant red switch labeled “Terry’s DSL” that had made it shut off, or if it was something that would require Waiting Until Monday.

Turns out, I was going to have to Wait Until Monday.


In the mean time, a child of mine was desperately in need of plagiarized material from the Internet in order to cut-and-paste it into a report for school, and so I had to swallow a large lump of filthy pride and sign up with AOL again for a few more weeks of temporary service. (Seeing as how I had all those free discs around the house, I figured I might as well use them.)

Come Monday, I got a friendly call from Barry at 10:35, who at that very moment was standing at the little gray box on the side of my house and proudly telling me my DSL service was back in business and everything was working fine now. WOO-HOO!

Got home, and eagerly flew to the Possum Lair to power up my modem and see how well it was working again now.

Power up, no DSL synch light.

Power down.

Power up. Wait. No DSL light.

Power down.

Plug directly into phone jack.

Power up.



Called the helpful CenturyTel customer service number, told them I was having trouble, recapped the recap you’ve read above, and the nice young man said they were awfully sorry, and said they’d send someone out within the next 24-48 hours. I asked what I though was a good question--“Since the phone lines work, and they can get it to work from outside, could this not be something wrong with the modem?” “Uh, I don’t think so, because, uhmm, no.”


Tuesday, a note left on the door that Benny has come by, and guess what? THE DSL WORKS AT THE OUTSIDE BOX!

Upstairs, power up. Nothing.

This will not stand.

After fixing supper and watching American Idol and getting the kids started on their baths, I vowed to prove one thing--that I have a bad modem.

I unplugged the Ethernet cable, pulled the carefully routed purple phone line and the power cord and power supply out, and went downstairs. Still clad in my office attire, I grabbed a flashlight and my socket driver set, modem, transformer, phone line, a 25ft extension cord, and walked out of the garage to the side of the house.

Opened the cover of the box and flipped open the test cover. Plugged in the modem. Plugged in the phone cable. Turned on the switch.

No DSL signal.

I have a bad modem.

It is blindingly obvious. There is no other alternative--at least none that require vast conspiracies or orgone radiation.

Back inside the house with my junk. Called the helpful CenturyTel customer service number, told them I was having trouble, went though all that you’ve just read, and the young man said, “Uhh, hold on, sir.” After about ten minutes, another guy came on the phone. I explained all of this to him, and with no small amount of pride, told him of my simple experiment of hooking up the silly modem to the outside box, and it still not working. “I have a bad modem.”

“Well, sir, do all of your other phone jacks have filters?”

Yes, dunce. It worked once, and then quit, and the guys get a signal outside at the box, and I did the same thing, and don’t get a signal, and so I must have a bad modem. “Yes, I have all the filters installed, but I have already plugged it straight into the wall jack inside, and took it outside and it still doesn’t work, and if it was a bad filter, the service tech would be having the same trouble I am.”

“Well, sir, if you’re having trouble inside, that can be causing the modem not to synch properly.”

Which, duncy-wuncy, is why I TOOK IT OUTSIDE IN THE DARK AND HOOKED IT UP--it DOES NOT WORK. IT IS A DEAD PARROT! “It’s not a problem in the house--all of the phone lines are working, and the modem worked right before, and I hooked up the modem outside in the same test jack the technician did, and I don’t get a signal. If he gets a signal with his modem, and I don’t get one with mine, it means that my modem is bad.” I think he finally figured it out.

“Sir, what happens when you turn the power on to the modem?”

Maybe not. Dunce, all the rest of the power in town goes off and I hear transformers exploding. “The power light comes on, and when the Ethernet cable is hooked up, I get Ethernet traffic, but the DSL synch light does not come on. ”

“What color is the light on the modem?”

IT’S THE COLOR OF A NORWEGIAN BLUE! LOVELY TO LOOK AT!”Um, well, I don’t know--it’s kind of an ambery-greeny-yellowy color.” You ignorant putz.

“OH, well, sir--if you had a bad modem, it really should be having a red light.”


“Sir, what I can do is put in a repair ticket and one of out service technicians can come and do a test on your modem. I’d hate to send you a modem if that’s not the real problem.”

’E’s not dead, gov--‘e’s pinin’ for the fjords!


I ask him to be sure and have the tech call me and I would be sure to be there when they came today.

TODAY--I make a mad dash to the bank this morning first thing, and then get back and am happily working away when I get a note from the Person Who Hallucinates and Who Screeches and Hoots All Day Long Like a Howler She-Monkey In Heat, which says that Benny has been to the house and the DSL is working fine outside.



Luckily, there was a phone number (and thankfully, not in imaginary numbers), and I called Benny back. Seeing as how the message was now over an HOUR old (being that the person who took it was so consumed with spiders and bats and yellow polka-dotted elephants attached to the ceiling, it was impossible to put the message in the e-mail system and send it to me when it came through) Benny was now across town on another call.

“Please call when you leave and I’ll be there within thirty minutes.”

11:15. Benny. He’s on the way.

So am I.

Drive, drive, drive. Fast.

Pull up and he’s already sitting in the driveway. I apologize for having them come out so much to check a line they know is working--“But I think I’ve figured out I’ve got a bad modem--I hooked into the test outlet and it won’t synch. Did they say anything about a possible bad modem?”

There was some mention of it. But not a lot--because obviously, that’s just crazy talk.

I went and grabbed the modem off the top of the garbage can in the garage where I’d left it the night before--“Do you want me to run the extension cord out to the box, or what?”

“Well, I need to go to where you have the computer so I can check it there.”



Why? What conceivable test would need to be run INSIDE, when it’s been established--BY BENNY, that very morning--that I had DSL at the box on the outside of the house. JUST GO PLUG IT IN THERE! But no, we must traipse inside.

Folks, I have four kids and a wife. I do my best to try to be neat, but I am sorely pressed by a family who does not share my obsession with putting things away. And it’s not just in one or two rooms--they live all over the house. There is not a neat corner anywhere, except the small space where my underwear is, and my gun cabinet. The rest is, and usually remains, a wreck. I am sorry I am not a better father, and cannot convince them to pick up their junk. But, that is but one of my many failings.

HOWEVER, must I bring tradesmen into my domestic sty!? Must they be made witnesses also of our slovenliness!? CAN THEY NOT JUST HAVE A SIMPLE MACHINE TO CHECK THE NORWEGIAN BLUE MODEM THERE ON THE DRIVEWAY!?

Apparently, not.

So, after profuse apologies to Benny for the mess he was about to enter, we went upstairs to the Possum Lair. “Please, Benny, close your eyes.”

The modem is once more plugged up to the power strip and to the phone jack.

Power up.

No DSL synch.


Benny gets out his little laptop and the tiny modem. I give him the phone cord. He plugs it in.

Lights flash.

DSL synch.

“Well, looks like you’ve got a bad modem.”

AND THE HEAVENS OPENED, and shouts of joy were heard throughout the land, and angels proclaimed loudly with angelic loudness that the modem was dead, with a sound and thorough deadness.

“Yep, I know.”

And then started the next process--phoning the helpful CenturyTel customer service number to tell them that I was having trouble--BECAUSE MY MODEM WAS DEAD--and they needed to get off their duffs and send me a new one. “Benny, y’all got any supersecret phone number to call to get better service?”

“Nope--we have to call the same one you do. Y’know, I don’t know why we keep sending out these Netopia modems--we’ve had a lot of problems with ‘em lately. I wish they’d just give us a few to keep on the truck so we can swap ‘em out so you don’t have to wait on them.”

I’d like it if they not have so many dunces who don’t understand basic wiring. “Yep, that’d be nic--HELLO, yes, I’ve been having trouble with my DSL service [recap above recited to Allison, the helpful young woman who was on the other end of the line].”

“Is the service tech still at the house?”

Why yes he is! I let them speak to each other, and he gave out his employee number and his actual name (oddly enough, I think they must all have aliases or something), and I heard him say, “And he should have the replacement by tomorrow? Good--thank you, Allison.”

So, now--I still don’t have a way to access my DSL line. I’m still with AOL.

But at least I finally have some satisfaction in knowing I was right, dadgummit.

That, and a buck, will get you a cup of coffee, my friends.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at April 5, 2006 12:50 PM

Some where some one must have good service with DSL.. Think cable modem my friend.

Posted by: jim at April 5, 2006 01:23 PM

Do the CenturyTel folks ever moonlight at the Post Office?

Posted by: LittleA at April 5, 2006 01:24 PM

Jim, I will say that the one night I had DSL, it worked just fine, and it's a lot cheaper than cable.

LittleA--no, actually, they are better, in that they seem to understand they can get fired, as opposed to those who are unfairly stereotyped as being prone to open fire.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 5, 2006 01:48 PM

A friend - who *works for* the phone company, decided to get DSL, since she gets it at a discounted rate. It took her son - who used to work as an installer - several tries and calls to get it up and running for her.

Thanks to a deal through work, my cable internet service is only $7 more a month than DSL (exclusive of whatever taxes are tacked on to the DSL bill - our deduction comes out w/o tax.) I'll never go back...

Posted by: Diane at April 5, 2006 02:04 PM

My problem wasn't the initial install, though--it worked just fine. For a day. The problem has been trying to get an exchange for the dead parrot.

As for cable--I don't have cable, and I really don't want to have to pay for a bunch of stuff I'll never watch.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 5, 2006 02:10 PM

Our DSL works fine 98% of the time. The other 2% of the time we usually just have to switch off the modem, count to ten and it works again just fine. It seems to hiccup, but does ok once you play the turn it off and on game.

Posted by: Jordana at April 5, 2006 03:31 PM

Wow. I've had awesome service with my DSL, even had 3MB DSL going, Netopia modem, etc. all from a local co-op.

Posted by: Joseph A Nagy Jr at April 6, 2006 06:00 AM

Well, as I noted, that first night was very nice. I just wish they were a bit quicker to acknowledge that occasionally modems do mess up, and wish they had a way of easily testing them without having to come in my house, which, at that moment, looked as though it had been hit by several tornadoes. Hopefully, if I do get my replacement modem this afternoon, I won't have any more problems.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 6, 2006 06:47 AM

Save yourself some grief and purchase a secondary DSL modem from here: http://www.dsldepot.com/

As far as I know, they are about the only place to get modems that are pre-configured to work with BellSouth's flavor of DSL (assuming you have BellSouth DSL.)

They also have capable and English speaking technical support should you run into trouble with your modem.

Posted by: Byron Todd at April 6, 2006 09:24 AM

Nope--the calls to CenturyTel were on purpose--they are the only carrier where I live. I will say that they were completely conversant in English, although a bit less so in the language of customer service. Again, once the new modem comes in, I'm hoping this will be the last problem I have with it.

As for BellSouth, a long time ago when we were at our previous home, I did have dial-up service with them. It stank to high heavens. I'm sure they're much better now, although I can't stand the knucklehead they have in their commercials.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 6, 2006 10:10 AM

You don't have to buy TV cable to get Internet cable service. I've had my cable service for almost 4 years now, and the one time I did have what looked to be a bad modem, the Help Desk just told me to go down to the local Time Warner office and exchange the modem. They put the new modem's serial number on my account, I went back and installed it, and everything has worked fine since.

Posted by: Mark at April 6, 2006 12:25 PM

Hmmmm--I didn't know you could get cable Internet without cable TV! I'm not sure about our area--we have Charter, and they seem to be really big into bundling at the moment. I think I'll check into it and see what I can figure out. Thanks!

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 6, 2006 12:45 PM

Our DSL is pretty good, again a local telephone company. I really can understand your frustration, since I've had similar technology-related exchanges. On the other hand, I think it was worse when I told the midwife I thought I had shingles, and she told me I didn't, and then three weeks later they sent me to a dermatologist, who confirmed my original suspicion and everything I'd read, which says if it's not treated with anti-virals in the first few days, you just have to ride it out. I did not get a decent night's sleep from mid-January on, including about a month of one night 4 hrs, one night 2, one night 5, one night 2, one night 4.5, the next 2. But, hey, now I have a one-month-old, so I'm getting plenty of sleep these days. Or not.

Posted by: Lenise at April 6, 2006 01:37 PM

Ouch--shingles and pregnant is a miserable combination. Glad to hear you're getting soooo very much sleep now, though.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 6, 2006 02:05 PM