One of the most frustrating things when you are a techie is dealing with call center help. First of all, most of them go by scripts. Second, most of them can't go very far off these scripts, and most of them learn the scripts like someone learning Japanese phonetically: they can say many phrases, but don't know the syntax. Then there's the third thing where they give you a solution you KNOW is not right, and it's a waste of time. Here's the kind of calls I have with COX:
Me: What's wrong with your network? I get intermittent problems with your DNS servers and can't resolve--
Them: Okay, is your modem on?
Me: Yes. Now--
Them: Are you using Windows 98, 2000, or XP?
Me: I am using several mixtures, but it's a network issue--
Them: I need you to load up Internet Explorer. It's a big blue E on your desktop.
Me: [sigh] Okay.
Them: I was you to type in double-yew double-yew double-yew... dot... see oh eks ... dot... see oh em.
Me: Cox.com, right, but--
Them: Can you see the website?
Me: Sometimes, but when--
Them: Can you see it right now?
Me: Yes, but about half the time--
Them: [starts to diagnose my browser settings]
Me: No no no. Listen. I have been monitoring your network using a system called Nagios on a Linux box, and it shows--
Them: [relieved] Oh, we don't support Leenix!
Me: It doesn't matter, it tests my network connection, and over the last few weeks, it shows that your DNS servers have been going down during peak periods.
Them: And Dennis owns these servers?
Me: No. D-N-S. Domain Name Service. COX has two of them in my subnet, and--
Them: You're subletting your connection?
Me: No. SUB-NET. You know, all IP addresses have a subnet mask that shows the host and the network portion?
Them: [blink blink] Can you open your browser settings--
Me: Can I speak to a higher level tech?
Them: Just because I am a woman--
Me: No, it's not because of your sex, it's your technical expertise that--
And I'll call back, and the ticket says I am subletting my connection to some Leenix hacker named Dennis and I am "difficult."
In all fairness -- and this is the worst part-- I am sure they get a TON of people who claim to be experts, and are fucking clueless. I know this must happen with such regularity, they simply ignore you if you claim anything off the script. When I did the phones at AOL, I got a lot of people who thought they were experts because they were engineers or something, and it turns out they didn't know their CPU from their monitor. So for me to claim, "Look, I know what I am talking about, I do this for a living, this is my diagnosis, and you should fix this," is like shouting to the Oracles that my crops died because it didn't rain. "And just what do you expect us to do?"
Then, and this is just icing on the cake, our digital cable is flaky, too. The Internet has been a lot more stable than the TV, which loses signal constantly and is fixed with strange kludges like switching channels and switching back. We have had COX come out again and again, and they lay more wire, drill more holes, ruin more parts of my house, and it will work for a while, and then it's back to same-ol' same-ol. The last time, they ripped up huge portions of my attic insulation, and never put it back.
So here's the deal. The network connection bounces up and down frequently, and often has outages that last an hour or more. When the connection does work, it's often super-fast, an effect I think that has something to do with people who gave up. The IP range is a Class A with 22 mask bits, giving a total of 1022 hosts possible on the subnet. There are probably few switches, routers, and the default gateway on that subnet, but I guess that leaves about one thousand Internet connections available to members in the Chantilly/Greenbriar area. That is quite a lot, since most networks don't recommend more than 250 or so connections on the same network. But then again, this is over cable, a pretty fat pipe. I think we can rule out this being the problem because...
I use Nagios to monitor the network from home. I have noticed that when I can't ssh from work back home, I can't ping the default gateway or DNS servers from work, either. This tells me the problem is outside my walls.
So, I bit the bullet and called COX. Here's how that went.
- Called number, went through phone tree
- On hold for 2 minutes
- Got a tech who wanted a PIN number none of us set up. When I asked him why he needed to PIN to check his own network, he didn't know. He referred me to a level 2 tech.
- I was on hold for 12 minutes
- A guy who sounded like Garfield on Quaaludes finally picked up with a sleepy "yeah?"
- Spoke to tech named "Allan." He tried the same, "What's your PIN, we'll send out a technician," that cost me a modem last time.
- After explaining how networks worked, and how I got a traceroute, he asked me to send it to his e-mail which was, get this, win95@[techsupport.address]. WoooOOOooo!
- He said it looked up to him, but was unable to explain how he came to that conclusion except, "It says it's up."
- Then this personification of "bed head" said he'd fire off a ticket, but didn't have a way to know the ticket number, and said it would appear in my bill. He was unable to explain how this actually worked.
I would be shocked if, when he hung up, he didn't just go back to sleep and forget the call ever happened.