Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Eco-debacle in My Home Cyberspace

or How I Made Truce with Reality

It has been a week since I posted something. I've gone silent for that long in the past, but never because my home computer network both betrayed me and resisted fixing so thoroughly. The story of my experiences in the past week falls far short of tragedy, but it never once got funny, either. It was kind of a bogging down in an uncharted swamp, a particularly unexotic wandering in fog, a seemingly endless journey on a train to nowhere, a pitiful confrontation with bureaucratic indifference, a virtual hostage experience with no opportunity to fall in love with my captor. I'll add right here, right now, that whoever you may be, random reader, you are forgiven for not noticing that I was gone.

I do most of my writing on an older Mac IBook. It's familiar and I like that I've worn the A off the A-key entirely. The S is going, as well. But the microprocessor is too slow, so I can't upgrade to the latest Mac OS and can't update my internet browsers (like Safari or Firefox or, even, Explorer.) Using an older browser works most of the time, but, increasingly, there are websites and services that I can't access. And, when I want to access design or layout or link-embedding features on this blog, I have to switch to Brendan's Gateway PC. This is rarely a problem, but it ain't efficient.

So, I bought a used IBook with a faster microprocessor only to discover that my new (used) Mac wouldn't play well (at all, actually) with my Linksys wireless router. This is not a good thing, because the alternative is a hard wired connection, which though perfectly adequate, would require lots of new wiring I was reluctant to run. But Thursday, I decided that I had to connect the new-old IBook no matter what it might demand of me. In committing to that course of action, I started a cascade of events that I still haven't entirely recovered from.

My Thursday efforts to connect appeared to crash or freeze my router, That evening, I called the helpline for the manufacturer and reached a very considerate Asian Indian man who, but for our difficulties communicating, might have helped, but didn't. It didn't work, either, when I called the help line later that evening and spoke to an individual working out of Mumbai (or wherever in India the service is based). By the end of the second call, Thursday had morphed into Friday. I opted for bedtime and a fresh start come daylight.

I woke feeling optimistic. I called Mumbai, or wherever, again. The tech on the other end seemed happy to talk to me, but we didn't make anything good happen. I wrestled with the problem on and off during the day Friday. At least, I wasn't in sometimes unitelligible conversations with people living somewhere else, but being at best a two or three-trick pony with computers made me feel as though I spent the day trying to convert lead into gold. I did decide that I would buy a new router on Saturday and, once more optimistic, went to bed.

Saturday afternoon, I bought the new router, a Belkin. I followed the instructions for installation on the CD that came with the router, but I couldn't make it work. In fact, connectivity seemed to recede. I also tried to reinstall the operating system on the new-old IBook and ended up with the screen frozen, the CD stuck in the disc drive of computer, and no apparent way to get it out or restarted. Saturday evening, giving up on computers, I focused on TV and drinking, which seemed helpful at the time.

But Sunday morning, when I woke up, still without internet access, I was also somewhat the worse for the drinking or the TV or something. The rest of the day? A big dose of trying the same old things and walking away in disgust.

Oh, yeah, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there was at least one call a day to the Comcast help desk to no avail. Nothing wrong with their modem, they reported with remarkable consistency. And because I insisted in calling on my landline, for which Comcast is also the provider, the call would get dropped each time when the help desk would helpfully remotely restart the modem, temporarily cutting phone service, just in case the modem needed clearing.

Changing direction on Monday, I actually called the Geek Squad. They would charge me $100 just to show up on Tuesday and fix the problem. This, of course, was a deal and I quickly agreed.

During the day on Moday, using an ethernet cord I had on-hand, I hard-wired the connection between the modem and my old, always previously reliable IBook. Thus connected, I could bypass troublesome routers, get a hard connection for one computer, but live without wireless printer connection and without wireless connection for the PC and, still, with the new-old IBook stuck on the Apple screen and stuck with a nonresponsive CD in the disc drive.

I also had to sit on the floor with the old IBook (which has an aging, quickly drained battery) balanced on my lap, connected on the left by short ethernet cord to the Comcast modem, connected on the right via Apple charger to a slightly more distant electrical outlet. I don't want to say I wasn't grateful to actually be connected, but it was less than a writer's dream.

So happy to see the Geek Squad guy on Tuesday morning--no afternoon, really--that I almost kissed him when he arrived and right there offered him a piece of chocolate cake with another piece as bonus, if he set things straight. It would be nice to report that he pulled it off.

But when he left later that afternoon, I had only the hard-wired connection with which I'd started the day. He did get the bad disc out of the new-old IBook, a good trick considering there wasn't an emergency eject that could be managed with a paper clip and that the computer was not talking to anyone or anything, wouldn't force quit, wouldn't restart, wouldn't go anywhere. He left charging me only the $100 I owed for him showing up. He wouldn't take the cake, never went to the bathroom, never took a drink, and stayed about two hours extra before he went off to his next appointment for which he was going to be very late. I hope he kept his job.

While the Geek Squad guy was around and after, I called Comcast three times. I don't want to describe what some of those calls were like, but the first time Comcast remotely restarted their modem, even though we told them not to do it because we were talking to them on the landline.

The second time I called and scheduled an appointment for their tech guy on Wednesday. My position was that Comcast couldn't keep telling me that the problem wasn't their modem. They were going to have to send someone out to see the problem for themselves. They told me I'd have to pay for it, a not unreasonable $19.95 charge, if their tech didn't have to do too much. I'll pay, I said, I want you guys to see what I see. Fine, the help desk responded, we'll schedule the appointment for some time between 11 and 2 on Wednesday.

I only made the third call to Comcast on Tuesday because I got a robocall from them as I sat on the couch, in the dark, head throbbing. We are calling to confirm your appointment for Wednesday between 5 and 8, the robovoice said. Taking care not to injure my telephone, I punched my way through a number of menus until I got a live person. I believe I was quite self-controlled as I rescheduled the appointment for the original 11 to 2 slot.

Barely prompt, at one o'clock or so on Wednesday, the Comcast tech arrived. He was pleasant, claimed he never left without getting a customer connected, and then departed, leaving me with a wireless connection to the PC that dropped within moments of his departure.

I turned all the computers off, disconnected the router, turned off the modem and left the house for a pleasant walk around the block, maybe six times around, or so. After returning home, I restarted the modem, restarted the Gateway PC, stuck the install disc for the old router into the PC and carefully followed the step-by-step instructions for "activating your router." It worked, a wirless connection. Buoyed by my success, I restarted my old IBook, the barely adequate one with the too slow microprocessor, followed additional step by step instructions and wirelessly connected with that one, too.

The new-old IBook sits, still inoperable and unconnected. I think I'll take it to an Apple Store and get their opinion. In the meantime, here I am, blogging about my almost life in a virtual world that nearly, but not quite, bested me. It's Thursday. I am wirelessly connected on two computers, which like each other and like the router. The modem is doing what it's sposed to do. I am wirelessly connected to the printer.

I am connected, therefore, I am. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


  1. Next time call your computer-geek cousin in Pittsburgh and save yourself some time ;)

  2. You mean save, say, a week out of my life? OK. Next time, I call you. You fix and I mail you a piece of cake.

  3. I'd even take a rain check on cake and a few beers at your mother-in-law's on your next trip to The Burgh. We can see how may miniature spoonfuls there are in a good piece of cake :)

  4. What a horrible but very familiar experience. What I am surprised at is the amount of patience you describe when talking to the folks in India. My white liberal guilt won't let me describe how angry I end up getting after I've talked with "Lisa" or "Donald." I know its not their fault...but they seem to be trained to listen, to regurgatate but not to understand. My stores of anger at Dell, when I've had to call them dozens of times, get more full each time I call them. One time I called the sales office of Dell, and I guess they don't let the folks in India handle sales cause I got someone who I could understand. I was told that upon purchasing a new computer, paying an extra $79.00 or so for their ProSupport package, would give me the privledge of never coming in contact with the folks in India. Grrrrrrrr. Glad I don't have to make the decision again about computer purchases and repair.

    Barb Roberts

  5. Hey, Barb. A lifetime calling the Dell helpdesk is undeserved tribulation. I have a friend who spent 35 years teaching developmentally disabled kids in public schools. He regularly got stoned before and after work. It allowed him to forget the worst and to return to work every day with renewed optimism. It's very likely that some of his colleagues thought there was something wrong with him, but he didn't mind that, either. I'm not saying his way would work for you, but...