The First Law of Troubleshooting

I’m going to tell you a story that might not be very interesting, but who knows, it might come in handy someday.

Here’s the short version first: Whenever there’s a technical problem, check the wiring before you do anything else. Even if your intuition tells you otherwise, ignore it. They actually teach you this in networking courses. Really.

OK, here’s the story. On Saturday, our home Internet connection went out. (or “went off” or however you say it. Couldn’t connect to the Internet.) This happens every so often, so I waited for it to fix itself and kept checking the router syslogs for any good news. (About 100 times in eight hours.) In the meantime, I configured my laptop to leech off the neighbor’s wireless. (Don’t worry, it’s OK, I scanned their network first and found out they didn’t have any PCs using it at the time.)

Day two: still no joy. I can see in the syslogs that the router is dialing out over and over but the other end of the line isn’t picking up.

Day three: Tony’s going through some serious Counter Strike withdrawal and Andy’s whining because he can’t play Gary’s Mod. Not to even mention what it’s doing to my sex life. (Ha ha, just kidding. Well, OK. Not just kidding. But yeah, anyway.) So I decided to check the wiring. First, I checked the phone line that we use for ADSL. Well whaddaya know, no frikkin’ dial tone! Just for kicks I unplugged the splitter (the little box that splits the incoming phone line into two: one that goes to the phone and the other that plugs into the ADSL modem) then plugged the phone directly into the wall. Voila, we have dial tone!

At this point I’m guessing the splitter is broken, although I can’t imagine how some stupid little box with no moving parts or power supply could break. It just sits behind the desk collecting dust bunnies and splits the incoming frequencies (or is it bandwidth?) into to separate streams. But whatever, so I hop in the car, buy a new splitter at the local home electronics store, bring it home and plug it in. So now the phone works when it’s plugged into the new splitter.

But still no Internet, dammit. However, since my laptop still works thanks to the involuntary generosity of my neighbor, I give up for the night.

Fast forward to this morning. I want to update my podcasts, but I have to do it on my desktop PC, not the laptop, so I check the wiring again and discover that last night when I plugged the phone into the new splitter, I forgot to plug in the $%$# modem!

Moral of the story: Check the wiring first. And then, check it again.

P.S. The only reason I’m telling this story is because I haven’t written in a while, but nothing interesting has happened lately. Truth is, I spent most the three-day weekend just studying Java, pulling weeds, doing laundry and horsing around with the kids. For excitement, I installed Ubuntu on my laptop via Wubi. Hey, what can I say, I’m a real fun guy.

[tags]anecdote, geek stuff[/tags]

Rich Pav

Richard has been living in Japan since 1990 with his wife and two teenage sons, Tony and Andy.

6 thoughts to “The First Law of Troubleshooting”

  1. Some of your posts that you think are boring have the best stuff. Like this one with your link to Wubi! I have been using and fooling around with Ubuntu for awhile with just the boot CD (sloooow, but a risk-free way to try Ubuntu). Now, I am off to try Wubi. Thanks!

  2. Wubi is the cat’s ass, or whatever hip phrase the kids are using these days to describe something groovy. I always need to re-install a new Linux distro at least seven times before I learn how not to break it, and Wubi has been a Godsend in terms of protecting me from my own stupidity. And I’m guessing it’s possible to increase the size of the virtual filesystem using some geeky command line tool, if you ever need to in the future.

    The only problem I’ve had so far is that I can’t get it to install on anything but the C: drive. I’m guessing it has something to do with me using SATA drives instead of IDE on my desktop PC. It complains that it can’t find /wubi/boot/grub/menu.lst. I’ve tried to Google for a solution, but the only one I found was way over my head. Something about installing a more recent version of Grub, and I don’t want to mess with that. Bootloaders scare me.

  3. Its true always check the wiring when it comes to networks, then, as I say to our office staff “have you restarted the pc first?”

  4. Could have been a small power surge through the phone line that roasted the splitter. Happens.
    Otherwise, as far is interesting / non-interesting blog entries go, yours are definitely on the interesting side. The things I read everyday…..tststs. (And what does it say about me that I read them even though I KNOW they are uninteresting? argh)

  5. Jared: I used Fedora and Red Hat for years and years, but these days I can’t afford the timesuck that is RPM package management hell. Also, I got tired of my distro going obsolete every few months.

    And why the heck did they ever decide to move /www to the /var partition? It might be a really stupid reason, but it’s one of the reasons why I want to migrate our company’s aging server from Red Hat to either Ubuntu or Debian one of these days.

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