On Thursday evening, I tried to log in from home. My computer got an IP address, but I couldn’t connect to any external web pages.
I fired up a terminal, and did some name lookups; that worked. At least more or less – it gave me an address, but also said something about not getting a response from other name servers. I did some tracerouting to make sure I could reach the host I tried (the server hosting this blog); it seemed to be getting there, so why couldn’t I log into it, or anywhere else?
I looked at the IP address again; it didn’t seem familiar. On a lark, I tried to resolve www.google.com, and got the same IP address. And a reverse DNS lookup on the address claimed that it was assigned to Comcast. I had some other DNS servers around, and tried them; I think (but can’t remember for sure) that they actually gave me a correct address, but a traceroute to that correct address failed.
I rebooted the router and cable modem; no dice. Clearly a Comcast problem; it was late at night, they are doubtless fixing it, I went to bed.
Bad assumption, it turned out: it was a Comcast problem, but it lasted into the next day, and, when I called them, they were blissfully unaware of the situation. It seems that, for no apparent reason, they’d somehow unregistered my cable modem (which I was renting from them!), and the tech I talked to couldn’t reregister it for some reason. Him telling me that it probably wouldn’t take more than 48 hours to fix didn’t exactly lighten my mood.
Next morning, I tried again; it still didn’t work. At least if I went through my router – if I plugged in my computer directly into the modem, it worked fine. So maybe they reregistered my cable modem but screwed up something else? Of course, it’s possible that my router decided to break at exactly the same time as Comcast screwed things up – it hasn’t exactly been a paragon of stability – but it seemed unlikely. Still, I spent a while getting myself very familiar with the router’s administrative interface (its idea of “diagnosis” turns out to be an option to let me either ping or traceroute), and even reset it to its factory settings; no dice.
So I got on the phone to Comcast. They, of course, tried to blame my router. I talked to the first person’s manager; she insisted that Comcast wasn’t even capable of filtering based on MAC addresses. So: maybe it really is a coincidence? Time to get on the phone to Linksys, I guess.
And I did; it was a good thing that I had a copy of Picross at hand to amuse myself during the wait times. During which time, they made me listen to stuff that I found actively insulting. Does anybody really think that telling me that their support is allegedly “award winning” is going to make me feel happy to be on hold? The only mental model in which that makes sense is if they think that people will be happy to be on hold because they’ll be reassured that at least the service at the end is worth waiting for. This might make Martians feel better – I wouldn’t know – but, for us humans, it doesn’t work that way. All they’re doing is showing that they realize that they’re treating their customers like crap by forcing them to wait that long, and are even more clueless than normal about what to do about it.
I eventually got off hold and talked to somebody. Which was a bit of an adventure: even though she had my serial number, she wanted me to also read her a version number, which was nowhere to be found on the bottom of my router. She wanted to know what kinds of computers I was using; after refusing to answer the first time, I let slip that I was using a Mac. Which, it turns out is unsupported; after I pointed out to her that it was their god-damn router that couldn’t communicate to the cable modem, and that I was using their own administrative web interface, she relented and agreed that she could maybe provide support for the web interface.
At which point, she actually had useful suggestions: go to the Setup tab, go to the sub-tab about managing MAC addresses, and tell the router to clone my mac’s MAC address. Why didn’t I think of that myself? Well, because I didn’t see the sub-tab on the interface! But it was such a good idea that I pulled up the raw source of the web page, figured out what to type in on the address bar to get to that sub-tab. No “clone MAC address” button to be found, but there was a form to enter a MAC address by hand; an “ifconfig en0” later, I had it in hand and was soon happily web surfing.
So Comcast can’t filter on MAC addresses, eh? Looks like bullshit to me. Or maybe not – at this point, I thought of rebooting the cable modem (which I’d done the previous evening but not that morning); after that, I could get online with the router broadcasting its own MAC address. Admittedly, I should have thought of doing that myself – I’ve seen that solve problems before – but Comcast should also have been aware of that failure mode and told me themselves to do that.
How do normal people deal with this? I’m annoyed at Comcast, but their initial phone support wasn’t too bad. But I don’t think that normal people will be obstinate enough to make it through the rest of the solution chain, or be geeky enough to read raw HTML and figure out MAC addresses if that’s what they have to do to get the router to behave. As is, I was very close to buying a new router because of this, when the router wasn’t the problem at all.
So: the scorecard. I’m mad at Comcast for screwing up my access, for not being aware of it, for not being able to fix it quickly, for not diagnosing the second problem, for shedding blame. I’m mad at Linksys for building an unreliable router, for long wait times, for insulting recorded messages, for trying to refuse to support their own product. I’m not thrilled at Scientific Atlanta, because I had to reboot the cable modem; I’m not thrilled with Apple, because it’s entirely possible that the web interface problem was a Safari bug instead of a Linksys bug. (I haven’t looked at the web page in detail.)
Grr. At least it’s over with. The rest of the weekend has been quite pleasant, at least…
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