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Living in the Analog World: Cable Modem Maintenance
In late March 2001 the cable modem people came to my house to fix a balky system. For those of you who don't have a cable modem, you can live through the experience.

I've had a cable modem for a long time
I was one of the first people in my city, Newton, Massachusetts, to get a cable modem, and Newton was one of the first cities in the country to have a full rollout. I was a beta tester and had an original modem. A couple of years ago when my connection was down, I got upgraded to a "new" modem.

I lose contact every once in a while
For most of the last year, my cable modem connection has been somewhat flakey. It normally worked fine, giving me up to the 1.5Mbs promised, but every once in a while, especially when I really needed it or when I was showing it off to a relative or friend, it would stop working for a few minutes or hours. When it stops working, the status lights on the modem start flashing in a particular pattern instead of their steady green. It especially happened in bad weather -- rain, wind, storms -- or so it seemed. I didn't keep a log. A cable phone support person I knew told me she thought I should request a new modem, that it would be more reliable.

I learned that I could wait a few hours, or at least until morning, and the system would work fine, synching up with the main cable system and giving the two green light "OK" signal. I don't like waiting at home for the cable repair person to come so when things looked good in the morning I wouldn't call for repair. I once started to schedule a repair visit, but it just didn't work out with some things at work and it never happened.

The last straw, so I schedule a visit
Finally, a few weeks ago, a little while after a huge rain, snow, sleet, and ice storm, it just got too flakey for me. It wouldn't stay up for more than a few minutes at a time before the lights started flashing. I didn't have any travel that week and I had some programming to do that I could do at home while waiting for a repair person, so I figured now was the time to finally get things fixed.

On the way to work I called to schedule a visit. No deal. I had to be at my modem before they do anything. That night I called. But when they tested it from their end, it was working (it was on my end too at the time -- luckily, since I used their support page to get the phone number to call...). Then, yahoo!, the like dropped and the support person on the phone could confirm that I indeed did have a down connection (they never believe me otherwise). Immediately he transferred me to the repair scheduler.

The repair visit
The next day the repair person came in the morning, right between the two time limits given.

He drives up in his AT&T truck. (Continental Cablevision became USWest Mediaone, became Road Runner and AT&T. Same wires, only one email address change early on.)

First he checked the vital signs outside where the cable was connected to the inside of the house. There's some attenuator there that he wondered about a bit.

   
Getting things out of the truck, inspecting the splice between the TV and data feeds into the house, replacing the attenuator under the gas meter connector
Next he went up on his ladder to check out where we were connected into the main cable elsewhere out on the street. His ladder just hung there on the line. He spent some time doing things. I scurried around and took pictures:

   
Up on a ladder working on the connection to the main cable
The connection after he finished
Inside he showed me the main culprit: The plate that connected my line to the main cable. It leaked and was corroded. My superstition about rain storms turned out to be true! Here's the connection box:

 
The connection plate
Here's a close-up of the results of the leak. It looks like when a battery leaks:

Detail of where water leaked in
Given the characteristics of the signal I was getting in the house, he thought it was OK to give me a newer modem that would be more tolerant of the variations I was getting. He also changed the attenuator on the side of the house. I had been running just at the line of acceptable signal, so the 10 value was changed to a 5. It all seemed so analog with so much balancing.

   
Old modem, new modem inside and outside of the box
Finally, he connected his laptop to my new modem and checked all the readings:

 
Repair person checking things out while talking on his cell phone
So far, a few weeks later, it's been fine, even in the rain.

In this digital world, the fine tuning and hands-on of the analog underpinnings are something we too soon forget.

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