Reliable Technology

”When using reliable technology, troubleshoot the simple and physical stuff first."
- Jim Melcher (Hey, that's me!)

Technology I Love

I was sitting at my computer when I saw a voicemail pop into my inbox! I immediately thought, “Why?” I was here the whole time, why did the telephone not ring? I then slipped into troubleshooting mode. This is a hazard of being currently employed as a support analyst and a lifelong geek.

I love new technology. I love proven, reliable technology much more. Fellow geeks and other Windows users will note my first thought was “Why?” and not "Damn, I don't have time to reboot!" This initial thought comes from my broad experience with alternate technologies. Technologies that usually work, for months, without restarts, without unexplained halts.

The particular technology that had me puzzled was my telephone. I admire the telephone network. My father was a long time employee of Bell of Pennsylvania and then Verizon in the end. I even put in a few years at the "pho-en cump'ny1" before it became Verizon. Fellow geeks, consider a technology service that is deployed to millions of users with high uptime, small learning curve and variable hardware implementations.

Your kids can use a telephone, your parents can use a telephone. People in cities and people with barns were able to use the early telephones. The system is usually up. Except in extreme circumstances of weather or physical damage people rely on the telephone. It is a reliable system. It is this kind of technology that I expect and assume in most of my experiences.

Fast Forward

After several upgrades to the telephone system (touch tone, fax service, data service, *69) including the successful interlink with parallel technologies (cellular, Internet), I find myself at my heavily used iMac2 receiving an electronic mail message from my telephone voice mail system. This indicates a missed a call and someone left a message. I was right here when the telephone call was placed, but my telephone set did not ring. "Huh?"

I am working with Windows clients at work. I must admit a lapse in troubleshooting judgment. I went to the router to check it out first.

Router? Sorry, forgot to mention I am a Vonage person. I would be happy to refer you. After this article you may want to switch for the low prices and national long distance included in your monthly rate (which I love!).

Given the complicated implementation of my telephone service, I panicked. I pulled a Windows move and restarted the router.

I don't know why.

I was receiving email on my iMac at the time of the outage. That means the internet traffic from my computer was successfully traveling over the same router and internet connection as the telephone service data. This was my first clue. I ignored it and rebooted.

That little reboot restored my service for a minute. Even reliable technologies will respond to drastic, brutish methods. I was a short lived victory. Before I could look at the number of the caller in the emailed voice mail, my service went high and dry again. This was my second clue. I ignored it and prepared to reboot something else.

This time I had the number programmed into my telephone handset's dial buffer. No delay this time! I decided to restart the Network Interface (often called the cable modem). This brutal solution also restored my service. So, I dialed. Unfortunately, I seem to have a problem with my biological dial buffer. I transposed some of the digits of the telephone number and received an invalid number message from the telephone network.

Blame Cox

Service was restored, and I get to the blame the cable company. Blaming a big company pleases the inner "technology should be free to everyone" streak in me. Too bad the nice big expensive networks that I need can only be produced by big companies seeking big profits. Many people hate the local cable company. I have little trouble with the service. I think they resent the price, and frequent price hikes.

I digress. I hang up and go to the iMac screen to get the number. I pick up the phone again, but the invalid number message is still playing! "Huh?" This was my third and final clue. In a reliable system it is always the simple (often physical) stuff that causes the problem.

It Wasn’t the Router

I had no problem with my heat beleaguered router. My Cox cable service was even reliable! The problem was me. I had answered the telephone late last night with the old style phone in the other room. The one with the physical switch to hang up. The switch that is activated (opened) by placing the full weight of the handset on it.

I failed to properly hung up my telephone. This whole technological odyssey was caused by a simple physical failure of the full weight of the handset to come to rest on the switch. The telephone network did it's job and cut my service until I properly hung up.

1 This is not misspelled, that was the proper "dumb dutch" name of the company that provided telephone service in Berks County. It was four syllables: Foe En Cump Nee.
2 This footnote is a required apology to my Windows using friends. Many of you believe me to be a Windows user. I am at work, but not out of preference. I own a Mac. I use it whenever I can. This bLog is composed and published on an iMac. Sorry if I deceived you by seeming normal.