Is There Anyone @home?

Is There Anyone @home?

Two months ago a friend of mine got a cable modem. He is just about my best friend despite the fact that he uses the Wintel platform. 😉 I listened with mouth agape as he explained how he downloaded the entire 25MB QuickTime Movie of the Episode 1 trailer in less than 12 minutes. Remember this was the height of the downloads!

After hearing that I decided to give this idea of a cable modem some serious thought! A 28.8 dialup modem does not make for a wonderful Net experience. Not that the Net was all that horrible for me. It just was a bit pokey. OK, so a lot pokey! But at the theoretical maximum a cable modem is 100 times faster than my 28.8. Now that is incredible difference.

I listened as my friend got a second IP address and hooked up his wife’s computer. I heard him relate the story of her first time using the cable modem. “Oh… Wow… WOW!!!” I believe those were her exact words used to describe the experience.

I decided to wait just a bit. I was doing fine with my dial up ISP (AT&T Worldnet) and I didn’t want to give up that dependability. I’ve had a few other ISPs but nobody is as good as AT&T for dependability. Nearly two years of service and I think once, I was not able to dial in and connect on the first try due to an AT&T problem. And I’m on the net multiple times daily. That is one terrific record.

Then I started reading about some problems that other Mac Users using cable modems and their problems. Especially with 8.5. I was cautious. But as I read more, I found that there was more than enough information on the net to rectify any problems that might come up. Sites like the excellent MacInTouch ( and MacFixIt ( would keep me up and running. (Isn’t the Mac Community wonderful?)

One of the biggest complaints I had about dial-up service was that it tied up my phone line. And getting a second phone installed was a pain as well as expensive. All for the convenience of being able to answer the phone while still surfing at dial-up speeds. Even if I got myself a 56k modem, it wouldn’t truly amount to that much more speed.

The second line would–when combined with an unlimited service ISP account–come to nearly 50 bucks a month, so the value didn’t seem that great to me. Especially since it would most likely include a 60 dollar set up fee on top of it. Whereas a cable modem is 40 bucks a month, it’s an always on, unlimited usage account. That compares quite favorably to the second line. The lower monthly cost would cover the difference in installation in just a few months, and when you figure in the speed difference it wins hands down.

It was time to wait for the right deal.

During a recent family gathering my Mom gave me a mailer she had received from the local cable company. It was for a special offer on the TCI@home cable modem service. Half off the normal 150 dollar installation. All I had to do was order before the end of May. I decided that the cable modem bug had finally bitten! I called @home on May 28th and ordered up an installation to take advantage of the installation special. The game was afoot!

I spoke to a wonderful person who took my order. While she was looking up the availability in my area we got to chatting. Prior to verifying the availability of my service, she had to verify that my computer was up to the specs of their service. When she found out I had a Mac, she had lots of questions.

Ironically, it seems that she was in the market to get a new computer for her family, especially her children. She asked me what about the Mac made it my choice. I explained to her some of the differences. I explained about the ease of use. The friendliness of the interface. The misconceptions about software availability and that Macs are more expensive. I think the kicker was when I told her that I worked for a major PC manufacturer. Surprised, she asked, “You work there and you use a Mac?” “Yep, I sure do!” I replied.

“Well, I really will have to look at the Mac then.” I then told her she could find them at Sears, Fry’s Electronics, and, of course, CompUSA. I told her that it was worth shopping around for a good deal. I also told her that the iMac was designed with kids and families in mind. I think I made a sale. (You’re welcome, Steve. 😉

Well, once we got through all of the rest of the confirmations and reconfirmation I had a cable modem on order. 🙂
Woohooo! :::Happy Dancing!::::

Couple o’ three days before the scheduled install I got a call from the techs confirming my installation date and giving me the option, if I needed, to reschedule. It was a nice touch. But I didn’t want to reschedule, I wanted my cable modem!

The Friday of the installation arrived and I got off work early. I got home as fast as I could and was about a half an hour early. I needed it. Seems I needed to tidy up. As a bachelor, keeping the house clean is not tops on my priority.

After I got my coat off and I started cleaning up, I thought to check my voice mail. Sure enough, there was a message from the gentlemen scheduled to do my install. They were running behind due to a heavy schedule and some “missing” technicians, so they might not be able to meet their two hour time frame. They left a cell number and I called them back to get an update since they had called at about 9:00 am that morning.

I called and was told they were a bit behind and just wanted to let me know they might not meet their original schedule. I told them I was flexible, I was there for the afternoon, and just to get to me as quick as they could. After all, I understand being over scheduled and understaffed. I very much appreciated the call.

Besides, this would give me more time to get my apartment cleaned up! 😉 I wasn’t too concerned about them being late.

The guys did show up and if I’m not mistaken, they were within their two hour window. To their credit they got right to work. Turns out I needed to give them written permission to allow them to move my cable outlet to my desk location. It was the first I had heard of it and they waited while I ran down to my manager’s office since I live in an apartment.

Naturally the property manager who had been there earlier that day was gone, and the on site managers didn’t have a way to contact her. Oh well, I then asked if they could please get me that permission when they could and that I had another plan that should at least get things rolling.

My plan? Well knowing where my cable outlet was at and knowing where my computer was at I had gotten a hold of an extra long Ethernet cable. The cable modem was set up near my television and I simply strung the Ethernet cable over my door to my computer. I was not going to be denied.

Having purchased a Mac Clone some years earlier, I had opted not to purchase an Ethernet card at that time. David and Jesse came prepared with a Farrallon PCI card. They plugged it in and installed the drivers in no time.

They tested my external devices to make sure they were working before starting to install their software.

David took care of the cable modem set up and Jesse took care of my computer and software. Jesse got behind the driver’s seat and got started. This is where I should have taken up a position behind Jesse and watched and noted his every move with my system, as it was, I hung back.

They both bantered back and forth about the set up as neither had set up many Macs. I decided to just let them go. I only had to step in a few times to give tips.

One of them was that just because you close a window, you haven’t closed the application and Command-Q is faster when quitting an application. The other was starting up with the extensions disabled was a better way to install the software.

I can’t say exactly how long the installation took. I believe close to 2 hours total. They had a couple problems with the installation. When they noticed I had no Internet Explorer alias on the desktop they became concerned. They ended up installing Navigator from a CD they had brought. The didn’t understand that I had my applications on a different partition than my boot drive. Their Netscape would crash at startup. I simply used my previous installation and everything worked fine once we got it configured.

It was apparent that they had been trained on a standard Macintosh install and didn’t have much more training or experience than that. What else they knew had come from what they had picked up from experienced Mac users installations, and from troubleshooting systems with less experienced users.

When they got done they had me up and running and showing various things on the @home network.

They started to button things up and tried to print to my LocalTalk printer. No go. Look in the chooser and it didn’t even show up. This was perplexing to all of us as it had been working just fine in the pre-installation check.

Before Jesse and David left I was already on the line to the @home help line. (That was not a good experience.) We tried many things before I signed off on the paperwork with due notation of what was not working. I knew if all else failed I could still use my inkjet printer if needed, but I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working, and I was not happy.

Jesse and David explained they couldn’t start up a trouble call. That I had to initiate it. They had worked until 8:30 pm the night before and they had done an admirable job getting me set up despite their inexperience with the Mac OS. I didn’t want to keep them there any longer, it would have been futile. They obviously didn’t know what had been changed on my system and it obviously couldn’t be rectified in a timely manner. My hope was that the technical support would have a simple solution to my situation. How naive.

The call to the help line was the absolutely the most frustrating experience. I explained what my problem was to the person who first answered. I was queried for a few details and was passed to technical help.

Oh my, this is where the Twilight Zone music should start.

When I first got to technical help, my cable modem had synched and everything worked fine, except for the printing. Jesse and David were packing up their tools and were just about ready to go.

I asked the phone technician to hold on as I just needed to sign the paperwork for Jesse and David. He argued with me and tried to dump my call. I stopped him short and told him that I had waited several minutes for him to get to me and that he could do me the same courtesy. He argued some more asking if it was going to be 20 minutes. Incredulously, I told him it would just be a few moments.

Once I felt confident that he wasn’t going to hang up on me I completed the paperwork with Jesse and David.

When I got back on the phone and explained the problem and that the installers had just left, the phone tech demanded that I run after them, telling them they had failed to complete the installation. I was incensed. I explained I had no intention to “run” after the installer’s truck to get them back. (Is it just me or does anyone else see the incredible rudeness in this person’s suggestion?)

I explained what the problem was (again). What operating system I had. He explained that there was some known problem between OS 8.5 and printing. He didn’t even attempt to help me out. He quickly gave up and passed me to the next tier of support.

So much for Tier 2 support. On to tier 2.5. In some respects I was relieved. This person had been rude, inconsiderate, and was only concerned with getting me off the line and not in helping me. The next step was also fruitless.

The TCI@home cable modem set up uses a static IP. After getting to tier 2.5 support they said that this known printing problem and it might be rectified by switching to DHCP for my network connection. I asked if this would then allow me different IP addresses each time I rebooted. They said no, that it would always request the same IP.

I set it up with DHCP and found that it did not solve my printing problem. When this happened I asked that my call be escalated to the next step, but I was refused. When I asked to speak to a manager I was also refused.

This is where my help stopped. I was quite frustrated. I had been refused help with my first call, the support person never even really tried to help, his only concern was to get me off the line. The next person with TCI was a fellow Mac user, but once we had exhausted his theories he made no other attempt to assist. He also seemed uninterested in getting me helped out.

I had a thirty-day money back guarantee. And I’ll tell you, I was very much tempted to call and cancel the service that same day. It seems ridiculous that this known problem was not explained to me at the time of ordering.

Once you hear what the actual problem was, you’ll be wondering like me what this “known” problem is!

I decided that I’d let cooler heads prevail and simply enjoy my quick Internet connection and talk to some of my Mac friends and see if I could get the printing problem rectified.

First thing Saturday morning I went searching MacInTouch and MacFixIt for this known problem. I had done a lot of reading about cable modems before ordering one and didn’t remember seeing anything about printing problems. I was surprised that these sites had no information that I could find regarding printing problems with cable modems. I was beginning to feel duped, as all the techs I had spoken to the day before said that Apple was working on a fix. After reading both the above sites and searching Apple, I was convinced I’d been given bogus information.

After a time I simply gave up and decided to move on to some other work I wanted to get done.

This is when it happened. The realization that this cable modem is truly a wonderful tool.

I was surfing and doing some work on some desktop publishing. It was really quite unique to find that I could be working in an application and if I needed something off the web, I could simply click on the Netscape Icon and surf over to a website that had what I needed, get it then continue working. This truly brings about a whole new paradigm. But that is not what this story is about.

So what was my printing problem?

Well like I said, I was surfing Saturday morning when I got a call from the guys that had done my installation the previous day, asking if I had solved my printing problem. I told them I was still without the ability to print to my LocalTalk printer. Then Jesse got on the line and asked me to check my LocalTalk control panel. Turns out he had switched it to Ethernet the day before and never switched it back. (Why he switched it, I’ll never know.) Sure enough, it was on the Ethernet port. I switched it back to the printer port and I was printing again.

What still has me concerned was that there was no one on the other line of the phone that knew enough about Macs to help me. I’m not a Mac OS expert, though I do know a bit more than the average consumer. Yet this problem had stumped me. I never would have thought that this control panel would have been changed, so I therefore never even bothered to check it.

In all fairness though, I must report that I called @home regarding another problem I had. Seems that despite all the checking and rechecking at the time I placed the order, my logon name was incorrect. I was prepared for another huge hassle but I was happily surprised.

Steve quickly discovered the problem and was able to fix it within a matter of minutes. I made sure that I complimented him regarding his customer service. It was a shining contrast to the previous help I had gotten from the @home folks.

I also have to credit both Jesse and David. They were very flexible and friendly in their approach. And calling me back a full day after they had been released of their responsibility to me was some terrific customer service. (And extraordinarily appreciated!)

I just wish that TCI and @home would join forces to get their folks real training and real knowledge, rather than just enough to “get by.” Because when this client called with a true problem, there didn’t seem to be anyone @home.

Bob McCormick

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