This starts out slightly technical, but eventually gets to the learning!
My first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games (FaceMaker & Spellicopter may be the two best known titles). When I went back to grad school, I went for the design side, though I’ve kept the ability to understand what technology does, and do a bit more than the average bear.
So when my internet connection started getting flaky, I realized I had a problem. Not the basic problem, but because there were several comonents in the chain, and it’s hard to isolate one without substitute parts. And, of course, when you have two potential culprits, it’s so typical to have the manufacturer of one blame the other, and vice versa! Now, my DSL modem and my wireless router were both quite old, at least 4 years and maybe as old as 6 or more. And I didn’t have a spare of either router or modem. What was I to do?
For those who are curious, the DSL signal comes in on the phone line, and then the modem translates it into ethernet. That could go straight into the computer, but instead I have that go to a wireless router to serve all the devices in the house (currently 4 computers, a Wii, two DS’s, and my iPhone; when no one’s visiting!). The phenomenom I was seeing was the connection starting to hang on various accesses. Rebooting both router and modem solved the problem (rebooting only one never seemed to work), but only for a while (8-24 hours). BTW, this behavior was described both by the ATT guy and a guy at Fry’s as classic hardware going bad.
I called ATT, and they agreed to send me a new modem (I reupped for a year). That came and I managed to get it installed. Took several tries, since they forgot to tell me that the modem now stores it’s own account login details, so those detalis don’t need to be stored in the router! Ahem. That one bit of info, and I was up and running again.
For a while. Then the flakiness happened again. So off I went to Fry’s for a router. For a ridiculously low price they had a refurbished one available, so I nabbed it. Same brand, only a newer version of my old one, which I was happy with.
Taking that home, I finally accessed it’s settings, but couldn’t make it talk to the modem! The lights on both modem and router said they were connected, but no traffic would go through. And I couldn’t access the settings via wireless, and it took a long time for the settings page (you control the router through a web page it hosts internally).
I took the router back and exchanged it. I was willing to bet that the first one was just flaky. With the new one, the settings page came up almost instantly, and I could access it wirelessly as well. OK, that seemed better.And the lights indicated everything was fine. But, no traffic was still going through!?!?
I was pretty sure that, it being the weekend, I couldn’t get help ’til Monday, but I searched the Netgear site anyways, and they said they had phone help 24 hours, so I called and got through. The guy there first said he couldn’t help me by phone for a refurbished modem, but then proceeded to tell me just what the problem was (turns out he couldn’t walk me through online, but could give me the details, which was all I needed). Of all crazy things, the modem and the new router both want the same URL! He had me reset the router’s IP address to something different, and viola’, I’m online!
(End tech details)
The learning here is severalfold. First, systematicity helps. Now, I know that, but it’s nice to have a chance to practice it. One of things I miss most about not programming anymore, besides the ability to create new experiences, is debugging. I loved using logic to try and figure out what’s wrong, and testing, repairing, and so on. I used to work on cars with my Dad, and the same process would be followed. I think systematic research and testing is a meta-learning skill, and one we really don’t teach in school, yet it’s critical!
Another meta-learning skill, or really attitude, is persistence. I didn’t have an option, because no internet connection would be a critical business issue. Fortunately I had a connection, it was just flaky (and with all this online seminar action coming up!. And I admit there were times when I was tempted to use bad language (or did), and/or had to take time out to cool off. But I kept thinking, testing, talking, reading, and more.
Of course, the two critical pieces of information would’ve been devastating if I didn’t have them. And I didn’t find either in a discussion forum, I talked to people, live. I’ve learned to be very clear about the steps I’ve already taken, and that helps to short-circuit what can often be very basic stuff (e.g. “did you plug it in, and are the lights lit”). I mentioned that I’d tried the manual, and my steps, which helps build credibility with the tech person (the router person commented that he thought I could do with just the instructions).
So, I think we could and should spend more time developing reasoning skills as well as rote knowledge (duh!), and help people learn to share their thinking to help identify the problems faced.
And now, here’s hoping it was the hardware and not a different problem!
Note that this ate up a lot of my time this past week, what with store, and time on tech support, etc, so this is also an apology for my lack of blogging this past week!