Sunday, 8 May 2011

It has a button to do WHAT?

I recently set up a new computer at home to run Linux. That's another story, soon to be told. (It's an excellent idea, by the way). In the process of finding room for it, running cables and so on, I accidentally pulled on a cable and sent a bunch of stuff tumbling off the back of my bookcase. There it hung by its cables for several days. Since everything seemed to work, I didn't pay much attention.

Today I needed to print something. No printer. Hmm. In sorting out the mess of USB cables for the new mouse and keyboard, I'd unplugged it. Getting to the cable required untangling all the stuff which fell off a few days ago. No problem - just the cable modem and the WiFi router, and their associated cables. I restored everything to its place, and even tidied up a bit, feeling extremely virtuous.

It wasn't for a while that I noticed I no longer had an Internet connection. A quick glance at the cable modem showed that its usual array of blinking lights had been replaced by just one steady orange light. I looked around and everything seemed to be cabled correctly, so I power cycled the modem. The lights gradually lit up, then started blinking - success, I thought. But then suddenly they all went out, back to the status quo ante. Hmm, again.

I tried all the usual things, power cycling, unplugging, checking software. All the machines could still talk to each other, just not to the outside world. I even checked the television, in case there was a problem with the cable itself. It was fine.

At this point I was getting desperate. Of course, it could just happen that Comcast had an outage at the exact time that I sorted out my little mess. Nothing left but to give them a call - not something I was looking forward to, 20 minutes listening to hold music, get cut off, another 20 minutes, then an operator in Islamabad trying to pretend he's in the US... ouch, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Plus which, the only way I know to get the number is... from their website. Which I can't reach.

So I took another look around. On top of the black plastic modem I noticed a tiny black plastic button. Well, who knows, it might do something. I pressed it and instantly - kaboom! - all the lights started blinking and all was well with the world again. Out of curiosity I pressed it again - no more blinking lights. I looked closer. The one orange light that stayed on is marked "standby" and... yes, so is the button, almost illegibly.

So, the modem has a button you can press which stops it working. It does it so thoroughly that it stays not working, even if you power cycle it. Obviously, I must have pressed the button as I was retrieving and rearranging my boxes. But... WHY? Why put a button on a piece of consumer gear, intended to be used by technically unsophisticated people, whose sole purpose is to stop it working in a mysterious and mystifying way? Apart from the inconvenience, it must generate quite a lot of support calls, from people like me who press it accidentally then can't get anything to work. Support calls cost money, even when you outsource them to Bangladesh.

Somewhere there is someone who thought this was a good idea, such a good idea that they convinced Comcast that it was worth the cost of all those support calls and the risk of a bunch of unhappy customers. I would love to meet him and have him (well, it's almost certainly a him, statistically speaking) tell me exactly what he was thinking.

1 comment:

Alex Deva said...

It's probably the son of the guy who invented the old TURBO buttons that all PCs used to have :)