Cook the Router!

Don't cook the router!

I lost my Vonage phone service today. Well, sort of...

I started getting calls on my cell phone this morning that were forwarded from my home (Vonage) number. I thought that was odd, so I checked the settings at Vonage. I found that the forwarding feature was not active. I was reminded that Vonage offers a network fail over feature. IF they detect the phone is not attached to the network, they will forward the incoming call to a number of your choosing. I chose the cell phone and that is my I was getting the calls this morning.

That's odd, thought I, did my cable company fail, did my power company fail?

No, no James it was you who failed.

We bought this house, um, used. For whatever reason the first occupant had connected the cable to the front room of the house. This is the first room guests see and is therefore a show piece. I cannot have my router and repeaters and amplifier and associated wiring just lying about without risking divorce. I neatly stacked all my cables, network appliances, stereo components and printer in a cabinet. A cabinet with door to hide my "mess" you see.

Well, desert living has its advantages. We spent an extended Easter Weekend with my nieces. The weather was wonderful and the doors were open and the pool was the central point of their stay. It was lovely really.

With all the indoor / outdoor living going on here the Air conditioning was turned off. So let's add this up...

7 components that generate heat
1 enclosed space
Remove ventilation, remove air conditioning place in 97 degree ambient temperature

Equals one thrashing router. I came home to find the little bugger flashing its little activity lights but providing no service to any port. I promptly removed it from atop the amplifier and over to the vented corner of the cabinet.

Vonage discovered my telephone quickly and I have service again. The iMac saw the Internet so you get this story and a recipe for baking Linksys products.

Mac Scare

I lost my Mac for a few days!

Last Tuesday I came home and smelled a funny burning scent laden with ozone. It has to be a motor or voltage coil, it just had that scent. I know the scent well from the Arcade restorations. So we set about finding which of the thousands of electric and electronic device might be the source.

Given the age of the dishwasher I was sure it was there. Alas it was not so. I still have my crappy (but working) dishwasher. It wasn't the new fridge. It wasn’t anything in the stereo stacks. It was so weird, we could not locate the scent. I didn't check the video games, they have not been on in months.

So I sat down at the Mac to catch up on email. The scent didn't seem any stronger there, so I caught up on email and went to bed.

Next morning the scent was still there. Went to check email and definitely got a stronger sniff at the Mac. I nose checked the vent on the back and decided it was the Mac!

I do not understand how a computer with an ailing power supply continues to function normally, but the Mac was working fine! Very perplexing, but ultimately not good. I decide to shut down the Mac and consider my options for cleaning the vents. I hoped that something (like hair of GIzmo) had lodged in there and I could swab it out and remove the burning possibility.

I checked, no hair, no nothing blocking the vent or intake. For those who do not have the pleasure of owning a Mac, there is really little else that can be done. This is a sealed box. I mean it, one solid piece of acrylic encases the computer behind the screen. No screws to unscrew! There are the ports for USB, FireWire, power, headphones, network, telephone, the intake on the bottom where the air comes (and the sound comes out) in and the vent on the top where the warmed air comes out.

Having nothing else to check I tried turning it back on to see if the smell had stopped by power of good design (I was searching for a blessing here!). The Mac power light just blinked at me. It would not start. Apparently the blinking power light indicates the Mac is not happy with the voltage coming out of the power supply. Well, now what?

Chandler Fashion Center

Chandler Fashion Center is a mall in the style of the old King of Prussia. It is several older malls and "retail concepts" strung together by Westcor. It gives the shopper that maze quality. Chandler is largely a flat land. No rolling hills there. Yet somehow the CFC has two levels (2.5 really, but that is another posting). At some points the ground level is the first floor and other it is the second floor.

It turns out there is an Apple store in the CFC. I am working 2 blocks from the edge of this mall-sprawl complex. I went in on Wednesday and checked it out. The Apple store in CFC is on the first floor. Deep in the part of the first floor that is underground. Perhaps I lack some internal Retail Positioning System that most teenage girls seem to have in abundance, but I cannot seem to locate the shortest distance from the Apple store to a parking space. So this first trip I was way off.

You need an appointment with a Genius at the Genius Bar to get a Mac or iPod examined. Geniuses are apparently the gateway to spare Apple parts. The theory goes they can fix most problems and not need to ship your device "out for parts" which is so inconvenient. Well, I did not have an appointment. So I had to make one.

You can only make an appointment for the same day. The concierge system that handles Genius bookings allow only same day appointments. By the time I got to the store through the maze that is CFC I was too late. The Geniuses were booked for the day! Which was fine, I didn't bring the Mac with me for the Genius to examine.

Thursday didn't go much better. I managed to not get the Mac into the truck in the morning. There would be no Genius that day.

For convenience, you can book a genius online. You go to and find your store and use the same friendly concierge system to book a genius. This sounds great! Get up in the morning, book your appointment over the web to beat all those pesky customers in the store to the Genius. Now if I could only start my Mac and use the web...

OK. Friday. Pack the Mac in the truck. Go to work. Work for a few hours and book the Genius at lunch. By lunch the Geniuses are booked.

Saturday. Explain to your wife why you can't do the thousands of hours of home projects work you keep putting off until the weekend because you have to drive to Chandler to see the Concierge to book a Genius to tell you what you already know, your nice new Mac that you are so proud of is slowly burning inside.

Yep, that went well. Off to Chandler. Remember this is my third trip to the CFC, one would think by now I could find a short walk to the first floor store from the parking lot. It was not meant to be. So I lug the Mac across the parking lot, through the Kids Zone, into the depths of CFC. Get to the Apple store and book a Genius. No problem, someone can see you in about an hour. We are hosting a class on iLife now. You can attend it while you wait. Well, hey free classes in the waiting area sounds good.

The Genius checks out my Mac and determines it is the power supply. I am (of course) just outside my 1 year warranty. This version of the Mac is having problems with the power supplies, so Apple has extended the warranty for the power supply, no charge. (I thought that was very nice) I drop it off on Saturday. They called Monday night. The power supply was replaced and the Mac was working fine, no data loss or damage to any other components. They even found my SimCity CD and had it in an envelope for me when I picked it up.

So, we have quick service, for free and they didn't lose my CD? Wow. I am about as happy as I can be for losing a power supply!

Yes, this bLog is posted from a Mac.


Chuck got stuck managing an implementation of QumasDoc (now DocCompliance) at Purdue. Despite this introduction we got along just fine. Chuck likes cars. Old cars, new cars anything he can tweak a little more horsepower from, pretty much makes him happy.

Chuck is also the source of some of the best "list humor" I keep. He find lists that last. They are fun, but they don't wear out after the first reading. The latest gem is a list of definitions. Simple definitions of the function of tools. You know, stuff guys should know.

Tool Terms

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, splattering it against that freshly painted airplane part you were drying.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprint whorls and hard-earned guitar calluses in about the time it takes you to say, "Ouch...."

ELECTRIC HAND DRILL: Normally used for spinning pop rivets in their holes until you die of old age.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Or snap off shower necks. I broke one off and needed to get the tile removed, replace the "receiver" and retile. Ooops!

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle. It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE-GRIPS: Used to round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely for lighting various flammable objects in your shop on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside the wheel hub you want the bearing race out of.

WHITWORTH SOCKETS: Once used for working on older British cars and motorcycles, they are now used mainly for impersonating that 9/16 or 1/2 socket you've been searching for the last 15 minutes.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new disk brake pads, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

EIGHT-FOOT LONG DOUGLAS FIR 2X4: Used for levering an automobile upward off a hydraulic jack handle.

TWEEZERS: A tool for removing wood splinters.

PHONE: Tool for calling your neighbors to see if he has another hydraulic floor jack.

GASKET SCRAPER: Theoretically useful as a sandwich tool for spreading mayonnaise; used mainly for getting dog shit off your boot.

E-Z OUT BOLT AND STUD EXTRACTOR: A tool ten times harder than any known drill bit that snaps off in bolt holes you couldn't use anyway.

TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST: A tool for testing the tensile strength on everything you forgot to disconnect.

CRAFTSMAN 1/2 x 16 INCH SCREWDRIVER: A large pry bar that inexplicably has an accurately machined screwdriver tip on the end opposite the handle.


TROUBLE LIGHT: The home mechanic's own tanning booth. Sometimes called a drop light, it is a good source of vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin," which is not otherwise found under cars at night. Health benefits aside, it's main purpose is to consume 40-watt light bulbs at about the same rate that 105-mm howitzer shells might be used during, say, the first few hours of the Battle of the Bulge. More often dark than light, its name is somewhat misleading.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the lids of old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splash oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

AIR COMPRESSOR: A machine that takes energy produced in a coal-burning power plant 200 miles away and transforms it into compressed air that travels by hose to a Chicago Pneumatic impact wrench that grips rusty bolts last over tightened 58 years ago by someone at ERCO, and neatly rounds off their heads.

PRY BAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50¢ part.

HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to cut hoses too short.

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts not far from the object we are trying to hit.

MECHANIC'S KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund checks, and rubber or plastic parts.

DAMMIT TOOL: Any handy tool that you grab and throw across the garage while yelling "DAMMIT" at the top of your lungs. It is also the next tool that you will need.

EXPLETIVE: A balm, usually applied verbally in hindsight, which somehow eases those pains and indignities following our every deficiency in foresight.

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.