Saturday started badly. I had a bad night’s sleep and then the TV locked up before we could watch the breakfast news. I was already grumpy and my coffee mood boost was still in the cup when there came a glitch that became a technology challenge.
I should explain that we have a streaming service that provides our ‘terrestrial’ TV. It’s a service that comes bundled with our broadband via a DSL router and a set-top box. We’d surrendered a satellite service once we lost sight of the satellites beyond the growth of neighbouring trees. Copper wire transmission was all that was available as replacement. Indeed, our road is only now being upgraded with suitable fibre-optic connections.
Because our broadband service is piggy-backed on the existing copper-wired telephone network, the DSL router placement was limited by proximity to existing sockets. It’s ended up on the inside of an exterior wall. This means the LAN connectors are several rooms distant from the TV set-top box that needs to be on a local network. The WIFI is similarly compromised by not being in the centre of the house.
So we installed a home-plug LAN network that works very well, and it also extends the WIFI via mesh technology. There’s more to this because there are two electric circuits in the small house and all of the cavity walls are lined with signal-blocking foil for heat insulation. But these complications aren’t really relevant except to show you that we have become technically savvy when it comes to these things.
So, that’s the infrastructure on which the TV was locked up and I’d not had a coffee yet.
We need a little more detail so let me start by explaining that our TV signal is streamed from an Eir broadband connection (1) into our home. It arrives into an Eir router (2, 3, 4) ) which we put into a Devolo home-plug network (5, 6, 7) which delivers the stream to an Eir set-top box (8, 9, 10) that is connected to a Samsung TV (11). So there are at least eleven physical places where the technology could go awry. This is important because there is almost no point in calling for technical help until you can argue that you have checked each and every item along the journey.
And you have to start at the TV and work in reverse. It’s not relevant but it is interesting that it took millions of people to put this technology into our home. So there I was, working backwards:
(11) HDMI cable from set-top box to TV
(10) set-top box itself
(9) electricity to set-top – is the plug functioning?
(8) LAN cable from home-plug to set-top box
(7) home-plug out of circuit
(6) home-plug into circuit
(5) LAN cable to home-plug
(4) router itself
(3) electricity to router – is the plug functioning
(2) phone cable to router?
(1) is there Eir service at all?
(0) let’s assume there is electricity and no circuit faults.
- The TV was working well.
- The set-top box was running but couldn’t see the internet.
- The home-plug was running but couldn’t see the internet.
Our TV locks up about once every 5 days as it is. So we have learned that you can only correct the problem by shutting down the box, disabling the home-plug and the rebooting the router and then powering each device up in the reverse order. No matter what the technical support desk has said in the past, this always works. It is the only thing that works.
- This time the router had no lights. Cycling the power switch confirms that the router is not on. Indeed the router is dead.
- I know that’s not enough for a technical support team so I hunt for a transformer that has the same step-down output. I tend to recycle dead devices but I usually hold onto their transformer plugs. I have one with the same specifications. I check that it works by powering up another device. It does not power up the Eir DSL router. I have confirmed the router is dead.
But here’s the BIG thing. Our router manages our connection to broadband service. We use broadband for all the things you can imagine plus we are engaged in tele-working via the broadband. Suddenly, we have none of these.
We have erratic mobile phone coverage where we live so the broadband is the carrier for a lot of the mobile-centric services too. We did retain a landline in case of emergencies like this. Simply put, we thought it wise to retain the backup of a landline so we can call for help. I called for help but was told the queue was longer than a roundtrip to the shops.
I ended up in the nearest Eir shop to see about a replacement router but they don’t stock any (and don’t answer their phones). Then, three calls to the technical support team and they arranged for Eir to send a replacement by courier on Monday. I’m not the account holder so I needed my buddy to authenticate the conversation three different times.
So I bought a router to cover us in the meantime. And here we are, posting a journal via a new router.
What was in this for you? Why did I write all of this when it’s pretty standard fare for all of us?
I wrote about this in detail because I heard an interesting and relevant story on the radio while I was driving between electronics shops.
Matt Ridley was talking about his new book How Innovation Works. Whatever about plugging the book (I intend to order it), he told a story about how, as society evolves, the individual becomes more specialised in their contribution or what they produce but broader in their consumption. Think about that for a moment and you’ll see it makes sense. Self-sufficiency makes you a jack of all trades and a master of none. It also limits what you consume to what you can grow, make or otherwise create. Think about the cells in your body for another moment. They aren’t sentient yet somehow the individual elements of any of the trillions of cells in your body do the one thing repeatedly, reliably to the benefit of your body as whole.
Ridley said that he wrote to thank Haim Ofek for this observation that Ofek made in Second Nature. Ofek’s response was that he got the idea from Ridley’s earlier book The Origins of Virtue.
Ridley’s radio interview (with Bobby Kerr on Newstalk) got me reading more online about Ridley. And through that reading I found Ridley talking about I, Pencil in a two-part interview here earlier this month.
I, Pencil is a particularly elegant essay written by Leonard Reed in the 1950’s. They key is that ‘not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me’. Brilliant reading. A great way to appreciate how very specialised we are in what we do but very broad(band) in what we consume.
The interplay between the graphite, the wood and the human is surely worth more thought as we restructure the world after Covid. Isn’t that what we’re doing, restructuring the world?