The Tech Man Sometimes Rings Twice

This week’s senior call was a bit unusual. The woman who called me is reasonably confident in simple tasks, and willing to experiment with workarounds, but not really comfortable with technology. She has a relatively new, high-end laptop supported by a matching set of cable modem and wireless router. She uses the wireless connection even though the laptop normally sits within three feet of the twin-antenna router.

Until a few months ago everything worked fine, but one day she suddenly did not have Internet access. That should have prompted a call for help, but her son was in another state and she didn’t think to call me because she thinks of me primarily as a tutor. But her Internet access is important to the business she runs from her home so she did what she could. She simply scanned the neighborhood for unsecured wireless networks and ended up logging on to her neighbor’s system. Problem solved. Well, sort of solved.

Whether her conscience bothered her or she was properly concerned about using an unsecured system, she called me to help her. This was, like, three months after the problem started.

Before diving into a system that I have not seen before, I like to get as much background as possible. Had she had any other problems? What was she doing when it happened? I asked those questions while simply looking at her operating system (XP) and generally getting familiar with how she had it set up. She related that she had called her ISP and they sent a field tech out to examine the system. He spent about an hour with her doing various tests. The tech said that the modem was good and that she had a problem with her computer or router. Since it wasn’t his problem, her couldn’t help her and she would have to get her computer fixed.

The tech had spoken, but we knew the computer could talk to a neighbor, so I thought it was probably healthy. She had a loose ethernet cable under her desk that went to the router. She said that she used to use it before she went wireless. On impulse, I connected her directly from the modem to her computer and checked the connection. Windows said it was good, but there was no access. I re-inserted the router and checked the wireless connection. Again, Windows reported it was receiving and transmitting packets without a problem. At this point, I knew the problem was identified, but not solved.

Before I could tell her what had happened, she mentioned that when Time Warner took over Adelphia, it suddenly started charging her a monthly fee for modem rental, but that didn’t seem fair because she didn’t have access and besides, she owns her modem.

To give Time Warner credit, it has some good phone tech support people who have good interaction skills. We called to report the problem. After I briefed the tech on the situation, he agreed it sounded like something at the company’s end. About twenty minutes later, and with the help of a supervisor, it had cleaned up the mess at its end and downloaded whatever files were needed to make the system work. This was done with a lot of apologies.

Now she is back online. I also confirmed that she would not be billed anymore for modem rental. Just for the fun of it, I encouraged her to request a refund of charges for the time when she was offline due to Time Warner not recognizing her modem. I’ll let you now how it turns out.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]wireless, wi-fi, wifi, time warner, adelphia, cable modem, senior computing[/tags]