Accessing the Internet in 100 easy steps

On Friday morning, as I was preparing for my bike ride to the office, wife Deb informed me that the Internet was down.

This was not an unusual occurrence.  Our configuration was as follows:

  1. Using a Mac laptop, I reach the internet via WiFi, talking to the Airport we have hooked up to the Comcast cable modem.  This is also how my daughter’s slightly used desktop Mac connects, as does my son’s iPad.
  2. My wife’s P.C., too old to communicate via WiFi, reaches the Internet by way of an ethernet cable coming out of the Airport.
  3. My son’s XBox 360, which requires an accessory we do not have in order to get to the Internet wirelessly, goes by way of an ethernet cable that is approximately as long as those undersea wires connecting our phones to Britain.  It runs from the basement television, up the stairs, across the living room floor and to the ethernet port in the Airport.

Items #2 and #3 are an ongoing problem because there aren’t three ethernet ports in the back of the Airport.  There are two, and one is taken up by the cable running from the modem.  As a consequence, my wife and son constantly fight over this port.

You said the Internet was down?

Right, sorry.  So the Internet was down, and I did what I usually do, which is reset the Airport by unplugging it and plugging it back in again.  This didn’t work.  My laptop was talking to the Airport just fine; it’s just that it didn’t seem interested in speaking to the modem.

So I called Comcast.  For this I got a forty-five second automated speech on how to order a UFC pay-per-view event from my television.  It was forty-five seconds because people interested in watching the UFC are stupid, and need to be told exactly what to do, provided they are at least smart enough to operate a telephone.  I would hear this approximately ten times in the next two days.

Fun with the cable guy

The helpful Comcast lady checked my connection and shrieked and said someone would be over that day, as apparently we were sending a connection problem message that was life-threatening in some way.  The available time for them to arrive was between 2 PM and 5 PM, when I would be at work.  So I woke up my son.

Tim,” I said, as that is his name, “You need to be eighteen and in the house between two and five today.”  (He is seventeen, but he’s six foot five and looks at least twenty.)

“Grunt,” said Tim.

The cable man arrived promptly at just-before-two and immediately began work on the cable leading up to the house.  Which was funny only because our television service and telephone– both of which use the same modem– were working fine, so the problem clearly lay elsewhere.

However, Tim was assured that the outside wires were very bad and wouldn’t make it through the winter, so fine.  It took the man two hours, he had to call a second man in to help him, he cut down a few branches on the tree at the edge of our property, but okay; I’d rather know we won’t be losing all contact with the outside world in the dead of winter.

But it didn’t solve the problem.  So when he finally got into the house and looked at the modem, he declared to nobody’s particular surprise, “this thing is toast.”

He replaced the modem.  And then he replaced the ethernet wire from the modem to the Airport.

And the Internet still didn’t work.

“He replaced everything and said that’s all he can do and he has to go,” Tim texted me.

Apple store fun

So, I called Comcast from the office, spent some time cursing UFC fans nationwide, and asked one of their helpful phone people what was left to do from their end, given they had replaced every component leading up to the thing I owned, i.e., the Airport.  I was really hoping for someone to say, “let me just push this special button I have right here” and everything would be fixed, but that didn’t happen.

Clearly, I was going to have to either replace or fix the Airport.

Which was sort of okay.  I love going into Apple stores, and I love buying new Apple products, because I am a sucker for pretty shiny things.  It’s just that I can rarely afford them, so when I have to because the old one is broken, I’m right on board with that.

Still, one of the reasons to get Apple stuff in the first place is that they don’t break down very easily– instead, they end up outdated– so the Airport’s death was a big enough mystery that I wanted somebody at the Genius Bar to declare it really and truly dead before I gave up on it.

But 8:15 on a Friday night is not a great time to try and get some help at the Genius Bar, so I bought a replacement Aiport and made an appointment for the next morning.

The next morning

What I should have done when we got home on Friday night was hook up the new Airport, but it turns out someone was putting alcohol in our drinks at the restaurant we simply had to go to after the Apple Store– because we were in the mall already and hadn’t eaten dinner and P.F.Chang’s was right there– so I waited until the next morning to fiddle.

*   *   *

Aside: I could get away with waiting because I could access the Internet still with my wireless modem, and Deb could get on once we plugged the ethernet cable from her computer directly into the modem, provided we restarted the modem while the computer was off and unplugged from the power.  This took another call to Comcast’s UFC Special Instructions hotline to figure out.

I would otherwise have been forced to hook things up when I got back, because my wife plays Farmville.  You understand.

*   *   *

old Airport

Two things:

  1. the new Airport was a different design than the old one: smaller, travel-ready, shaped like a surge protector.  And possessed of only one ethernet port.  To use this, I reasoned aloud, would require that I purchase an ethernet hub.  I could then run a cable from the modem to the hub, then out of the hub to both the Airport and Deb’s computer.  Since Deb’s computer worked when talking directly to the modem, I saw no flaw in this.  Plus I could also run the XBox 360 to the hub.
  2. When I connected the modem and the new Airport, I still didn’t have any WiFi.

    new Airport

So I called the UFC provider and cable company yet again.  They had no ideas left, so I told them I was going to be seeing the Apple people soon, and we promised to keep in touch.

The Genius Bar

My personal Genius was a large, heavily tattooed man with many piercings, who immediately reminded me I was in Cambridge when he commented that his husband works for Comcast, and they don’t know anything about Apple devices over there.  This was after he had plugged my Airport in– the old one– and determined that it worked fine.

“What you need to do,” he said, “is plug in the ethernet cable to the modem, unplug the Airport, unplug the modem and remove the battery from it, wait a minute, then put the battery back in, plug the modem back in, wait until the modem is reset, and then plug the Airport back in.”

“But the Comcast people said not to take the battery out, even though the Apple literature tells me to,” I countered  “They said to just hit the reset button on the back of the modem.”

“Yeah, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

So, armed with the knowledge imparted by my large, tattooed gay Genius, I returned the new Airport, went to Best Buy and bought that ethernet hub– because once I expressed the need for it both wife and son were overjoyed at the idea of no longer having to fight over the Internet (“I can love my mom again!” were my son’s exact words)– and headed home.

Yaay, Boooo, Yaaaay

And I still couldn’t get everything to work properly.

Beginning with the ethernet wire going from the modem to Deb’s computer I:

  1. unplugged her computer and plugged the same cable into the ethernet hub
  2. ran a wire from the hub to the Airport
  3. ran a wire from the hub to her computer
  4. ran a wire from the hub to the XBox 360

Good: I tested Deb’s computer, and it still had the Internet.

Bad: But the Airport had none.

Good: I followed tattoo Genius’s directions, and also turned off Deb’s computer so that they would both be reset at the same time.  When I turned the Airport back on it worked.

Bad: But now Deb’s computer had no Internet.

Bad: Neither did Tim’s XBox 360.

Comcast one last time

So I did what any self-respecting man of the house would do: I cried, and then I went to bed.

And then I called Comcast again.  Maybe, I thought, if I ordered their Ultimate Fighting Championship package they would let me have the Internet on both computers at the same time.

I was no longer rational.

It took me approximately fifteen minutes just to explain what the current setup was, why it was set up that way, and what had already been done leading up to that point.  It was a phone call that required two or three supervisors and at least one cigarette break to get through, but a solution was finally reached.

Don't cut in

My mistake, it turned out, had nothing to do with the UFC.  Evidently the house’s modem is like a terrible metaphor involving a girl at a party who dances with the first guy she meets and ignores everyone else for the rest of the dance.  So what I had to do was run the ethernet from the modem to the Airport, from the Airport to the hub, and from the hub to the computer and the XBox.  (Terrible metaphor extension: to ask the girl to dance you have to go through the guy she’s already dancing with or not at all.)

And this worked!


…the outlet the ethernet hub was plugged into shorted out.

No, I’m not kidding.


We never did find out what caused the outage on Friday morning, by the way.

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No Comments

  1. Jaleta Clegg on August 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Isn’t customer support so much fun? *plastic smile* I lost track of the number of hours I’ve spent on hold waiting to talk to customer support. The companies that keep me waiting the least and actually give service get my repeat business. The ones that are a pain, don’t, unless I have no other choice.

    You could also try sacrificing Twinkies to the computer gods. We used to do that regularly to solve our SCSI voodoo issues.

    And Apple rules…

    • genedoucette on August 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      I nearly lost my shit completely when my son said, “well we don’t have internet, but he said he can’t do anything else and he has to go to another appointment.” Especially since it sounds like all we had to do is unplug the Airport and reset the modem.

  2. Tess on August 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I can’t stop laughing.

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