Tech Tips
My Mac Magazine #33, Jan. ’98

Here’s a problem I hope you or anyone you know hasn’t encountered: trouble connecting to the Internet or other on-line service providers. As with most of the other topics, this can be broken down into several key areas.

Step one simply is getting a dial tone with the modem. Although most Mac people never encounter this one, I’ve run into it enough times to know “we” are not immune.

So let’s check the basics:

  • Is the modem turned on? (Yup, had clients with this problem.)
  • Is the phone line plugged into the wall and into the Line port of the modem? Those darn modems are labeled quite deviously, at least to the novice, and most (with 2 outlets) have a picture of a telephone receiver and another one that supposedly has a picture in the shape of the wall outlet jack. The phone cable plugs not into the telephone, but the line jack (the image of your wall outlet). An image of a telephone receiver is supposed to make you believe your spare telephone plugs into it, when in reality people assume the phone-to-wall line plugs into it.
  • Does the phone jack you’re plugging into have a dial tone? Having a spare phone around to verify that the jack itself is good can save a lot of frustration (which is why I normally carry one when performing modem installations).
  • Do you have a spare cord to use in verifying that the cord that came with the modem is good? Your local electronics store will be more than happy to sell you one.Step two: Ok, the modem and its connection to your phone company appears to be good, but the computer gives an error to the extent of “no communication with modem” or “modem not responding.” If this happens to you when the darn thing had been working fine, think back to the time between the present and the last time you used it. Had there possibly been an electrical storm? Lightning is an excellent destroyer of modems; maybe your modem is toast.

    Internal modems (especially the Express modems) normally require software to be installed in order for the computer to recognize them. Many times a simple fix is to reinstall the Telecom software (it came with your machine, OS 8 CD and is available on Apple’s Web site – a moot point if your modem doesn’t work). Oh, a note on getting the software from the manufacturers Web site when your modem doesn’t work – maybe you could download it now – while it’s working – or you could always bug a friend who has on-line access. One last simple fix when getting your modem to respond is to turn the modem on/off for a few seconds or restart your machine. It’s amazing how many times this has fixed a dysfunctional modem.

    A couple of parting thoughts on connectivity issues:
    Some new modem pools don’t work too well with older modems causing dropped connections and poor throughput. A simple but elusive fix is to add a few commas “,,,” after the phone number, which causes your modem to ignore the first chirps and connect the way it is supposed to.
    Some connection software (MacPPP for example) have idle time-outs that will hang the phone up when you are inactive for a certain period of time. If you seem to be losing the connection, you should check your software to see if the time out value is set too low.

    As above, there are also “tickle” values that you can set which send out a few data packets every so many seconds (designed to notice when the connection has been dropped). By having your software “tickle” your provider, you can frequently avoid being disconnected before you wanted to be.

    Real World Experience

    The system: PowerMac 9600 & 8600.
    The problem: SoundEdit 16 crashing.
    The solution: Changed disk driver.
    The explanation:
    Both of these machines were experiencing system errors after updating the System to OS 8 when running SoundEdit 16 (I forget the exact version). It appeared to be a basic conflict with the new OS, and I was going to leave it at that, assuming that the vendor would release an update soon. By accident, one of the clients launched the application from an external hard disk, which had been formatted with a third party utility (FWB’s HDT). After a little further investigation it appears that the application just didn’t cope well with the new driver from Apple’s Drive Setup, but did like FWB’s driver. Formatting the other volumes with FWB cured the problem.

    Jeramey R. Valley (

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