Complain, connect, configure

I’ve been having problems with my home network. Ugh.

It’s a fairly simple set up: Comcast broadband cable, connected to an AT&T cable modem, piping in whatever speeds Comcast offers.

From there it goes (normally) to a D-Link WiFi router, to which I connect my my new sexy thing, and a wired ethernet 100BaseT connection to my Mac mini, which serves as my media PC (connected to my teevee) and a file server (an additional 380 GB of hard drives hanging off the FireWire connection).

Nothing too radical. I try to keep a VPN from my Mac mini to dante, the server my website is hosted on, so I can get around the stoopid block that Comcast has on running servers on their connection.

I’ve wanted DSL so I can maintain my own home server, but since Qworst and I have done battle, that’s not likely to happen. Technically, DSL is available in my area but, strangely, and without any documentation that might bite their ass in court, they claim that “technical difficulties” prevent them from providing this address with DSL broadband.

At any rate, I’ve been having problems. On a random basis, all of a sudden my router will stop getting an IP from Comcast. My internal network still works – I can see and get to all my shared drives – but my connection to the larger tubes of the internets ceases and desists. The only thing I’ve found to restore the connection is to unplug and reboot the cable modem.

This had happened about a year ago, and I got so frustrated that I called Comcast and had them send out a technician. When he showed up, he pissed me off by remarking on how messy my apartment was, to which I snapped “Why don’t you just focus on diagnosing the problem?”… not a good friendly basis. So when he told me that my WiFi router was causing radio interference with my cable modem, he didn’t take the next step of, y’know, replacing the cable modem, which at that point was at least 4 years old.

I’ve been paying a small fee every month to “lease” the cable modem, and I’d long ago passed the point where I could have just purchased a new one. I just put up with it, even though I was within my rights to ask Comcast to replace this one.

I tried to build a Faraday cage out of aluminum foil and a cardboard box. That seemed to work for a while, but then the problem returned. I limped along from that point on, either forgoing the use of WiFi and just plugging my laptop in directly, or living with having to reboot the cable modem, but in the last several weeks the problem has gotten progressively worse, resulting in my having to reboot the cable modem every couple of days, then every day, then every couple of hours… and the more often it occurred, the longer it seemed I had to leave it powered off before it would start passing packets again.

I wasn’t sure at this point if the problem was radio interference, or an overheating problem, maybe exaggerated by the additional heat caused by my enclosure. Argh.

So this weekend I decided to do something about it. Comcast listed all the “Comcast certified cable modems” that would work with their service – the common denominator seemed to be that the units all supported DOCSIS 1.1 or greater. Easy enough. I headed out to Stuff, a pawn shop that specializes in electronic equipment and goodies, and there on their shelf was a Toshiba PCX2600 cable modem, for just $14.95. I thought that the model number was a good omen

I found that I couldn’t just plug in the new cable modem and have it “just work”. Comcast needed to authorize the MAC address on their network. I called Comcast, and after an hour-long call to Paul in Winnipeg, Canada, where he kept me on hold for a long time, returning only to assure me that the problem wasn’t something I had done, that he was working on it, and that he would get it fixed… finally he came back online and explained that he could not get my service working. He had to “escalate” the call and that it would be working within the next 24 hours. Probably.

Fine. I was done for the night, anyway. I went to work the next day (yesterday), came home… and found it still wasn’t quite working. Well, it hadn’t been 24 hours yet…

But I tried one last thing. When I had called Comcast, I had had my laptop plugged directly into the cable modem, since they don’t service, or even troubleshoot, WiFi or home networks. I thought that maybe they had only “authorized” the MAC address for my laptop. I cloned that address to my WiFi router, plugged it all in… and presto, it worked.

Except… now I’ve discovered that the power plug for my WiFi router is loose. If I jiggle it, it will power off. I now wonder if that was causing the original problem – if it loses connection with the cable modem, that would cause the symptoms I was seeing before. I would still “see” my shared drives because AppleTalk will cache network shares for a certain amount of time, long enough for the router to reconnect my Mac mini and my new sexy thing. Argh.

Oh, well, at least it’s all working now. But maybe I’ll save up and replace my $30 WiFi router with a sexy AirPort Extreme Base Station… that way I can just plug the external backup drives directly into the router…

Why is white plastic so damned sexy, anyway?