The people across the street seem like nice folks. They are lawn-less still; some problem with all the sprinklers not being put in, but they seem to accept it with good humor. What else can you do? This is a new phase of the community, and we're all waiting for something. I have my lawn, but my driveway needs finish paving. These things will get done.
They were also having computer problems.
Well, networking issues, actually. Apparently they had always had one computer hooked directly to their Comcast modem, but their daughter had bought Mom a brand new Dell, so now they wanted two computers hooked up. The daughter had also bought a wireless router, but couldn't seem to get everything working.
My neighbor mentioned all this while we watched dust blow off what will someday be his lawn.
I had a quarter second struggle with my conscience. On the one hand, I can't afford a lot of time helping out neighbors with various computer issues. On the other hand, how long could this take? I offered to "take a look".
So a few minutes later I stood looking at an old Compaq Armada running Windows ME. This was obviously the "old" computer; Mom's brand new Dell notebook sat beside it. The Armada was connected to the Comcast modem with a USB cable. The Armada had no Ethernet port.
Ok, this is simple. We'll skip the lecture on how you should never hook directly to a cable modem. I pointed out the Ethernet port on the Comcast modem and explained that the wireless router needed to be connected to that with an Ethernet cable. That would then let Mom's wireless Dell work. As for the Armada, I told him he needed to buy a PCMCIA card - either a wireless card or a plain old Ethernet. Either one would let us connect everything up.
I don't know if I really expected that would be the last of it. That's the problem with helping out friends, neighbors and relatives. You can get sucked in to a vortex that you'll never get out of, and soon find yourself spending way too much time helping people who aren't going to pay you. No, that's not really it, is it? They'd pay you if you asked, but there is just no way you are going to take money from them. That's the real problem.
I sometimes lie to people and tell them I don't know much about Windows to avoid getting anywhere near this stuff. But that can be a hard lie to maintain the moment you make an exception anywhere: people talk.
Two weeks later we were at a neighborhood party and I found myself talking to Mom. "Did you get your computer set up?", I asked. She sighed. No, her computer still had no Internet. Their daughter had come and tried to make everything work, but it didn't. She said her husband said he thought they needed different cables. She thought they needed to "call somebody".
Well, I qualify as "somebody", I guess. But you have to be diplomatic in situations like this. Hubby thinks he knows what is wrong, but wife thinks otherwise. You don't want to step directly between them waving your arms.
"Tell Steve I probably have the cable he needs", I said, and left it at that.
The next evening Steve and I were again watching dust blow off his front yard. We small talked and eventually he mentioned that I had offered access to my cable stock. "Hey, let's take another look", I said, so I grabbed my MacBook from my house and then we returned to the scene of the crime. The Armada was still plugged in with the USB cable, but he had bought a wireless Ethernet PCMCIA card and a few short CAT-5 cables.
I connected the Comcast Modem to the wireless router, disconnected the USB, and power cycled both. My Mac was hard wired to the router and obtained an IP address, but had no Internet access. I fired up a browser to look at the router configuration.
This was a Belkin-54g. Don't ever buy one of these. They probably work OK, but the browser interface doesn't give you much information about what's happening or not happening on the Wan side. I disconnected it and hooked my Mac direct to the Comcast. It tried to get an IP, but the modem wouldn't give it one.
"My daughter had the same problem", Steve explained. "She even called Comcast. It was very frustrating."
"Well, let's call 'em again", I said. Quickly enough I had a tech on the phone and explained the problem. "Sure", he said, "it needs to be reset to give up that USB connection".
"But I power cycled it." Steve nodded - his daughter had done the same thing. "Battery backup in that modem - reset button on the back", explained the Comcast tech.
Sure enough, recessed reset button in the back. I stuck a pen in it, and seconds later the Comcast modem was happy to talk on its Ethernet port. Steve noted that his daughter hadn't been able to find the reset - it really was hard to see, especially if her tech hadn't explained that it is the kind you stick a pencil or pen in. But now the router was happy, and I configured it for a security passphrase and made initial connections with the other two computers. Steve has his connection, and so does Mom. Everybody is happy.
As the the general problem of doing 'puter stuff for the neighbors, well, we'll see how bad it gets. After all, there are only around twelve hundred people in this community right now: how many computer problems could there be?
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-08-03 Anthony Lawrence