The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vista with Gates and Demon

I worked in IT for about ten years, but that doesn't mean I'm tech-savvy. The programs I worked on were usually big suites of commercial or admin programs - some of them monstrously complicated, modified over decades of accretion, where changing one line required long thought and anxious consultations with wise old men, like the British Constitution. (Reading Burke and Paine one after the other, it struck me that the difference between the conservative and the radical could be seen as a difference in programming style.) In 1989, fixing old programs at London Electricity for the impending decade rollover, some of us pointed out that we might as well deal with Y2K while we were at it. I documented one such fix with a comment line I'm still proud of: This will work for 2000 and 2100 but subsequent century dates may require amendment. The closest I ever got to tech was working on manufacturing control and change control programs, and even these were about scheduling or tracking processes, not actual hardware. And I was happy to leave that side of the job to those who were good at it: the Women With Screwdrivers, as the highly competent hardware support team at my last job called themselves.

Anyway ... a few weeks ago young Master Early moved out. He moved all his personal files to his laptop and insisted that we use his PC - a recent model, with Windows XP and a fast processor, unlike the one I've been banging on for a decade or so. Buying a new PC with an unused one in the house would be a complete waste of money, he said. I agreed, saying that I could use that PC and get Mrs Early her promised laptop. Mrs Early, used to my foot-dragging over technological change and increasingly critical of the kind of web access achievable with the PC we used - Windows 95, a low-number IE and dial-up - insisted that this wouldn't do. I had to get a new PC. OK, I said, but let's get broadband first. At least with that I'll be able to shop online for a new PC without the damn thing crashing whenever anyone phones.

So I phoned up for Demon Broadband, and a few days later the disk arrived, and a Speedtouch modem and a couple of ADSL filters. Several foot-dragging days later, I psyched myself up to install it on Master Early's PC. The set-up disk was very clear: do not connect your USB modem until the modem drivers are installed. Fine, I thought: I had hardly got the hardware out of the box, let alone hooked up. So I installed the drivers, and was prompted to plug in the USB modem.

Looking at the cables and filters and the modem, I belatedly figured out that the phone line from the PC wouldn't fit into the ADSL socket. I picked up the phone to consult my tech-savvy friend Tony. No dial tone.

What an inconvenient time for the phone to go dead, I said to myself, or words to that effect. Then I suspected this might be more than a coincidence. I tried fitting an ADSL filter between the phone socket and the phone. No dial tone. I logged the fault with BT and was told it would take a couple of days to fix. Meanwhile I could divert incoming calls to my mobile. Down the pub with Charlie, Feorag and Tony, I told my tale of woe and was told that a cheap adaptor was all I needed for the plugging things together problem. I drew a circuit diagram and Tony pointed out where the ADSL filters should go. I put them in, but to no avail. I took them off again.

At the weekend a BT engineer finally checked out the line problem. At this time I was in Dublin for P-Con. My mobile rang at an admirably early hour. The engineer said the problem seemed to be inside the house. Could he have access? Afraid not, I said. Nobody in but Zhukhov, the Early Dog. Perhaps, said the engineer, some piece of equipment is connected wrongly to the line? Ah, I said. I'll check that. Master Early was due to drop by later that day. I got him to disconnect his PC from the extension, put the ADSL filters on the phone and the extension, and voila - dial tone!

Everybody was so relieved to get the phone back, and more importantly get dial-up back, that they clean forgot to remind me that we were supposed to have broadband. But in due course they did. Tony kindly came around, figured out where I'd put an ADSL filter on the wrong side of a splitter. And, after much more faffing about, I got access to Demon Broadband on Master Early's PC.

So I checked out Dell, and checked out PC World, and decided there wasn't much in it and we could go to PC World today, so Mrs Early and I drove to Corstorphine and bought a shiny new Packard Bell with Windows Vista. I took the Speedtouch modem off Master Early's computer, intending to instal it on my new one. Dropping by that evening, Master Early plugged the line back in for the dial-up, tried to connect, and got the message: No Dial Tone. How odd, I said. I picked up the phone. No dial tone. When we disconnected his phone line from the splitter in front of the ADSL filter, we got dial tone back. The phone extension, on the same splitter, worked fine.

Oh well. It was getting late.

Bright and early the following morning, I installed the Speedtouch modem in my shiny new computer. The little green LEDS on the modem glowed happily. I tried to connect. No joy. I rang the Demon helpline, to be told that, oh yes, the Speedtouch modem doesn't work with Vista. There'll be a patch for the drivers available for download in April. I decided I might as well by a wireless router and be done with it.

Mrs Early was at work, with the car. I got the bus to Barnton, trekked over the hill to Corstorphine, and explained the problem to the tech guy at PC World. Oh yes, he said. That's all the fault of the manufacturers, Microsoft has given them months and months of notice. I refrained from saying that I could have done some notice when I bought the PC yesterday. He then told me that only the very latest wireless router (ninety quid) worked with Vista. I was about to bite the bullet when a sales guy helpfully pointed out that I could install the router on the PC running XP, and stick the dongle on my new PC, and get online that way. Great, I said, buying the cheapest router I could see (Philips, fifty quid).

Back over the hill I trekked, hopped on the next bus home, and set to work installing the Philips. Hit a brick wall on configuring ISP details: a drop-down selection that didn't drop. Phone the Philips helpline. After being talked through the install and hitting the same brick wall, I mentioned why I was doing this in the first place, and was told that the router could be installed on a PC running Vista, no problem. I tried this, and the problem went away, and all the lights came on, but the thing wouldn't connect to the Demon server. I rang Philips again, and was told to get DNS details from my ISP.

And the following day, yesterday, I did just that. But I didn't ring the Demon helpline. I got the numbers off the right bit of help documentation, put them in myself and felt very smug when I got online on my shiny new computer, and even more smug when I installed the dongle on Master Early's PC, and got online with that.

All that remained then was to configure my email, which only took a couple of hours and two calls to the helpline.

The only outstanding issue is the dial-up line to Master Early's computer. It still makes the line go dead. It's connected to the correct socket of an ADSL filter. It's not really necessary - his email client pickes up his mail over broadband just fine - but I'm still curious about it.


"Figure it's about time you rejoined the human race?"

I wonder if the problem with Master Early's computer being connected to the line is related to the maximum number of devices that a phone line will support? It's something like five phones or ring-equivalents in the jargon.

Hm. But it worked fine before, as a dial-up line. This is the same line, connected to the same modem, via the same splitter.

Count hown many things are plugged into the various phone sockets around the house. If it's more then four (My earlier dim memories of RENs turned out to be incorrect) then the chances are something is going to give on the line. The device count is only a rough estimate; each device has its own REN. One is a standard phone ringer but different devices can be rated higher. The number used to be on the green sticker that certified your equipment as BT approved.

If it's not that then it could be a dodgy cable connecting the modem to the phone line. I've got loads if you want to try another one.

I didn't realise anybody bothered with USB modems anymore. The driver stuff is such a pain to deal with, particularly if you are using anything less than a "standard" operating system. Still, you got a proper modem/router in the end.

He then told me that only the very latest wireless router (ninety quid) worked with Vista. How do these people get away with such nonesense? If Vista didn't work with existing routers people have the whole world would have heard about it by now. Over selling like this is the sort of thing that trading standards ought to be dealing with.

...a sales guy helpfully pointed out that I could install the router on the PC running XP. I wonder if he knew perfectly well that it would actually work fine on Vista but suggested installing on XP simply to avoid the embarrasment of calling BS on his collegue in front of you. If so it was, at least, a creative way out of allowing his company to rip you off. I hope a few words were said later.

I had the exact same no dial tone issue when I mistakenly plugged the phone line into the the ethernet port on my network card.

Thanks, Anthony, and thanks, anon.

Can the same physical hole go from being a modem port to being an ethernet port?

Can the same physical hole go from being a modem port to being an ethernet port?

In a word, no.

Maybe there are odd multifunction PC Card devices (which plug into slots on laptops) or whatever which could morph in this way but for a normal computer they are quite separate. Modem ports are usually 4 or 6 pin and ethernet ports are usually 8 pin.

Physically, a 4 or 6 pin telephone plug can be plugged into an 8 pin ethernet port but no good will come of the combination. For many home users this design is just a useless mistake waiting to happen. It's not completely stupid, though; in more complex sites, including some homes, it is handy to be able to put either telephone or network connections (or sometimes both) over any individual cable.

it can be a bit like putting in a new bathroom , which is why calling on a data plumber is always advisable. PCWorld would have charged you £160 to sort it all out for you with no issues, I'd have charged you £60 :)

Thanks again, ed and anon! I had the phone plug in the ethernet socket.

Latest fascinating discovery is that CDs formatted on the XP machine are seen as blank by Vista. am I doing something clueless, or is this another Microsoft triumph?

I would advise against touching Vista with the proverbial forty foot pole. Microsoft software is poorly designed, unreliable, bloated and forces unsuspecting users onto a software and hardware upgrade escalator. Who wants to pay monopoly rents for the use of this "intellectual propoerty"? See BADVISTA to cut through some of the Microsoft Propaganda and for suggestions on alternatives

Not sure what your sockets are like in the UK, but there are some I've seen in Australia designed so that picking up the phone cuts off all other extensions in the house.

If that's the case you just need a new phone cord from the wall to the phone/splitter.

(Dropping by because I just saw your name on the guest list for Swancon 2008, which happens to be my local.)

Sorry, just realised you've fixed the problem with the phone. Isn't the ethernet/phone jack similarity a marvel of clever engineering?

Dad I love you; I didn't realise how much walking you did over Drumbrae to PC World for this!

I actually factually have the Best Dad on earth. This blog is a tiny fraction of the proof.

Master Early

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