Friday, December 28, 2007

Tales of Terrible Tech Support

I've had more than my share of tech support ordeals this year. I can't resist ranting, but I'll try to keep it brief.

I switched our DSL service provider from SBC to Earthlink back in July, 2006 because SBC pulled a bait-and-switch on us (the initial inexpensive DSL suddenly doubled in price) and because Earthlink offered a good price on phone service and high-speed DSL combined. Ironically I had heard that Earthlink had excellent customer support, and that made me more inclined to switch.

I'll spare you the details: after months of our DSL not working periodically for days at a time, way too many phone calls and several appointments with technicians, they finally dialed back the "high speed" service to plain-old DSL and it became (almost) reliable. But the experience left me bitter. Earthlink didn't actually provide the DSL, but contracted to Covad who would come out and "fix" it, but then it would stop working. And of course every time I called Earthlink I had to explain the problem and repeat the history of the problems to a new technician, who would usually have me try the same thing I had tried each time without success before finally escalating it. Sadly, I think this kind of technical support is average. For Earthlink to provide above-average technical support they would need to identify customers with chronic problems and assign a technician to the case whose job is be a contact person and do what it takes to provide satisfaction. (I think this would probably save them money in the long run and would certainly buy them a lot of valuable good will.)

So I decided (after letting the Earthlink contract expire) to switch from Earthlink to Comcast to get a higher-speed cable-modem, and Comcast could also provide phone service (and continue to provide our cable TV service). Hopefully this won't prove to be a mistake, but it has been another painful transition.

It took a couple months before Comcast actually came to do the installation. We booked two appointments that were cancelled because Comcast could not coordinate the porting of our phone number from Earthlink.

After everything was finally installed, it all worked for a week or so and then stopped. I seemed to be having problems with the cable modem and my old Linksys BEFSR41 router. (Don't take this link to be an endorsement--do not buy it--and keep reading if you want to find out why I recommend you think twice about buying any Linksys products.) It just stopped getting an IP number from the modem (even though my computer could when connected directly to it). I tried upgrading the firmware, but couldn't through its web interface and couldn't when I tried their Windows software (no Mac software provided) on my PC at work.

Finally I called Linksys tech support. To their credit, I was not on hold for long (and they provide 24-7 support). But I was told the product is out-of-warranty (I've had it for 2 1/2 years) and I had to pay $30 for "extended warranty" tech support. The "specialist" technician I then spoke to had me press the reset button for 1 minute (I had tried 30 seconds as the manual recommended) and it worked. I should have had him help me upgrade the firmware, but sometimes I actually do practice "if it ain't broke don't fix it" and I figured I could always call back.

Everything worked for a couple days, and then the cable modem stopped working. I called Comcast and was told something confusing about the modem being activated but my account wasn't, or maybe it was the reverse. The technician couldn't fix that: I had to wait up to 3 working days for it to be fixed in their big computer in Colorado. And since it was the Friday before xmas, that meant we'd have to go almost a week without the Internet.

Yesterday afternoon I tried the cable modem again and it worked, and after some fiddling I got the router working. But then last night our connection died again. The modem wasn't responding, so I called Comcast and spoke to a technician without any time on hold. He had me disconnect the modem and ground the coaxial cable. Then he reset the modem and everything worked. (We'll see how long that lasts.)

But then I couldn't get the router to work. So I was back on the phone to Linksys. But the technician told me the $30 "extended warranty" had expired after 7 days! She wanted me to now pay another $33 for another 14 days of "extended warranty" service. I refused, and tried unsuccessfully for some time to talk her into escalating my case without the extra charge. Finally it became clear that all she could do was keep reading for her script and that she was trained not to hang up, so I finally (politely) said "good-bye".

I'm disputing the $30 charge on my card--I'll get some satisfaction knowing that even if I don't get my money back that it will cost Linksys (Cisco) more than $30 to deal with my dispute.

Ironically I emailed a complaint to Linksys at the email address provided in the receipt for the $30 charge, and received a response saying they have "discontinued the e-mail support channel for Technical Support Inquiries."

I'm going to buy a new Apple AirPort Extreme. Apple is the one company that has provided me only positive tech support experiences.

My rant is long enough, so I'll save the details on my problems with Popcorn, Toast and Spanning Sync for another time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 is back from the land of stale websites

I finally made time to update I haven't uploaded any photos since December 2006, so I've got some catching up to do. But instead of starting with January (2007) and working my way towards the present, I decided to upload the most-recent photos (from November) and work my way backwards, while still regularly uploading recent photos.

Note that while I said "upload", I'm actually uploading the photos to Flickr, and writing about them (and linking to them) on As I wrote, I expect it to evolve into a photoblog.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I took Gabe to a hockey game

I took Gabe to see the San Jose Sharks play the Dallas Stars on Saturday. (A friend at work got my the tickets and took his son who is about the same age.) I was a little worried that Gabe would miss his nap (which he still seems to need and takes every day without fuss), but he did great.

I felt like I was passing on a family tradition: my dad took me to many hockey games as a kid. (For years we went to the Centennials games, and we saw the short-lived Cowboys play a few games, and we went to several Flames games, of course. Ya gotta love Wikipedia.)

But one tradition we didn't continue: Gabe actually stayed awake for the entire game. I used to fall asleep during the game, and then wake up between periods to watch the Zamboni.

We got up and walked around during the breaks between the periods, and enjoyed eating an ice-cream sundae during the start of the third period that we bought during the break. After the game I bought Gabe a t-shirt, which he proudly wore home and all-day yesterday.

Gabe did very well following the game. He was a little overwhelmed at first, it took 5 or 10 minutes before he'd remove his hands from his ears--hockey games are much louder than they were when I was his age. But before long he was cheering loudly and clapping and yelling "score"! I was impressed when we got home and he explained that it was fun, but that the Stars won 3-2. (He missed the empty-net goal.)

My New Blog

I decided to start a new (second) blog, on Python practices and patterns. See my first post there for an explanation.