To inoperability … and beyond!

I really need to follow my own advice more often — stuff like “hold off on new technology at least until the standards firm up” and “don’t make major changes on a machine required for work unless you have a week off to debug it.” But no, I had to mess with the system and upgrade myself into a corner, resulting in the absence of GMSV yesterday (it was missing the day before because of another bug, this one in my corporeal being, but I will spare you the details).

Short version of a long and frustrating story: My trusty Microsoft wireless “g” router had taken to cutting out from time to time, but could be revived by my favorite repair method (unplug, wait 10 second, plug back in). Still, it was annoying, so I did what I would have told anyone else not to do, and instead of waiting a few more months for routers based on the recently almost-firm “n” standard to hit the shelves, I ran out Sunday and picked up a recent “draft n” box that supposedly could be brought up to the latest version with a software upgrade later.

Now making changes in a home network can be dicey, but mostly on the wireless end, and indeed there were some issues that I figured to work out over the following days. What I didn’t anticipate was a problem with the PC wired to the box, and in fact things worked well at the start, even into the first few minutes of yesterday’s shift. And then, suddenly, it was like evil spirits conspired to keep me away from the sites I most needed to get to. The Web at large seemed to be accessible, but I couldn’t get to GMSV or the admin page from which I post. And when I tried Techmeme, probably the site I use most to track the online tech conversation, I got a page offering 10 free ringtones. So, despite all my firewalling, I’m thinking virus or spyware, right? But after much cache-clearing and time-consuming scanning with a variety of antivirus and antispyware programs, no joy. For a moment, I pondered whether this was the sign (read: excuse) I’d been waiting for to get a new PC, but came to my senses and eventually did a rollback of the system and the hardware, and luckily ended up where I’d started and where I’ll stay until the newer routers show up and I have a week off.

Don’t mean to bore you with my troubles, but I thought some of you might enjoy the schadenfreude. Anyone else ever run into a router that worked but was possessed in a similar way?


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  • Mark

    On XP systems at least, I’ve found that a simple “ipconfig /flushdns” goes a long way, especially while travelling.

    On the router end of things, though, I used to have a router that would hang and have to be physically rebooted if someone from outside tried to use passive mode ftp to my ftp server. Completely stopped network traffic. Finally got tired of that and replaced the router with a different brand and it’s been fine since.

  • Jim Frost

    Yours is a little different from what I saw, but I did see something similar with a Linksys router when talking to a Verizon DSL modem.

    The symptoms I saw where that *some* of the internet was visible. But not all of it. I thought that maybe Verizon was having a major outage somewhere until I realized that sometimes I got failures for different machines that were on the same remote net (eg website ‘’ would work, but ‘’ wouldn’t, and this was true across quite a lot of companies). I had never seen anything like it, not in twenty-plus years of using the internet.

    To make a really long debugging story short, I finally decided that the only thing left that could possibly be broken was that Verizon must have changed their PPPoE servers such that an incompatibility was introduced between them and the up-to-then-completely-reliable Linksys router. Luckily for me the Linksys firmware download page worked, I re-flashed the router, and voila — problem fixed.

    PPPoE is the devil’s work, truly. I hope you don’t have to use it. But if you do, keep my story in mind.

    If I were to make a recommendation, given (or perhaps assuming 🙂 that you are technically competent, I would recommend that you ditch the new ‘n’ router and get a Linksys WRT54GL. The hardware is nice and stable. The firmware isn’t (it seems about average for consumer devices — that’s not good enough for me) but the GL allows you to flash DD-WRT.

    With DD-WRT I haven’t had a router go down, not even once. The Linksys firmware used to crash regularly even when just used as an access point. (I got familiar with the 10-second-reboot too.) I’ve even had excellent results with DD-WRT’s QoS (first time with any consumer product). For less than a hundred bucks, delivered to your door, it’s hard to do better.

    In any case good luck with it.

  • Brian

    Get a Mac my friend, Took me five minutes to set up our wireless network, never had a bug, it always boots. Reading your post reminded me of the PC hell I was in before switching.

  • Highland Pacific

    I removed my D-Link “g” router, plugged in a new Apple “draft n” Airport router and was up and running in 5 minutes. Four minutes to unpack the gear from the box, 30 seconds to unwind and plug in the cables, and 30 seconds to reboot. Hasn’t been down in yet.

    My Mac laptop, desktop, and two other laptops recognized and connected to the network immediately.

    Much simpler than the gyrations I used to go through to set up and maintain my network at the PC-only office where I worked.

  • Goran Turner

    Get a Mac. It works. Love your prose and satire.

  • michael

    I ran into very similar symptoms recently, and attempted similar repairs. In the end, the surprising solution was the center wire of the co-ax coming out of the wall – it wasn’t extending very far past the connector. I tugged on it a little with some pliers, and voila ! Someday soon I will re-do the connector.

  • That sounds like DNS stuff to me. First the stupid questions:

    – you said “wired” to the box, so I’m assuming ethernet. Was your wireless running too?

    – were you on 2 networks (if the wireless was running)?

    – I ask these stupid first questions because of your first comment about your G connectivity dying. I go through the same stuff in my environment – which is a “dirty” (ok noisy) radio environment. You know how it is – seem’s like everyone here in the SF Bay Area as an AP…and then there’s that totally open pubic access (free) wireless net…

    Interference (are you on channel 6 all the time?) is your culprit for G problems. Try going to a different channel.

    So if your wireless adapter was still on, and you had wired yourself, and had default dhcp addresses (192.x.x.x), **on both nets***, I would think that what you went through is possible…

    BTW, the “other net” could have been your neighbor’s, particularly if they leave it open….who knows, you may have had the same IP as your neighbor’s pc so routing was, well, off….

    Hope this helps…obviously if you did the standard checks (IPCONFIG/ALL, NSLOOKUP, etc.) and know the above wasn’t possible…then none of it is relevant…

    Off topic: I thought mac-types were smart…you did say it was a router issue?

  • Paul sawkins

    You would find you get a lot more work done if you move to a MAC pc and Network – it just works…

  • My problem has been with a specific wireless network at the motel where I am staying. I could never maintain a solid connection to the damn router. All efforts at alleviating the problem proved fruitless (an appropriate word considering our loss of bees-another story, I know).

    I ended up ditching Norton Anti-virus. They really have not been doing too good with their programs of late (the last 2 decades?). After completely removing all of the Symantec programs from my computer, I find it runs smoother, and (so far) have had better luck with my connection.

    We’ll see if it holds up during the next rain shower.

    Oh, and yes, I did install another anti-virus program–Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

  • Stuart Berman

    Hi John, I see that others have beaten me to the punch, but I need to reiterate the sentiment. I see a Mac in your future. I’ve used Mac’s since the day they came out, and the stints where I needed to use Windows PC’s for work convinced me that I made the right decision from day one. Go for it!

  • Dick Dunbar

    Absolutely I have seen this problem. I was also interested in the 300N technology, and I tested 7 routers and worked extensively with tech support for each one.

    Only one router installed cleanly, delivered the promised throughput, and has stayed up flawlessly for 4 months.

    DLink DIR-635.

    The adapters you put into PC’s also are extremely flakey, and only 2 satisfied me to work flawlessly, and _NOT_ absorb about 40% of the cpu cycles trying to support 300N.

    I write this from downtown Palo Alto on a DLink RangeBooster DWA-645

  • Mike Williams

    I had a dlink that dropped a lot, replaced it with the newest Airport, and that thing screams…and has only dropped once in 3 months. Submit a PO through your work for an Airport.

  • HDC

    Yeah Macs are better when it comes to networking simplicity but not necessarily everywhere else yet. Peripherals can be a crapshoot on interoperability. Web cams? Printers? Good luck. It is getting better (yay Slingbox!), but Macs aren’t quite to the promised land of universal interoperability just yet. If it requires specialized software, you may be waiting a long time.

  • I have seen this problem several times in the past and each time it was fixed by adjusting the MTU setting of the router. If the MTU is 1500, only some web sites may appear. Reduce it to 1492 (or lower) and all should be well.

  • I was wondering how many comments would tell you to get a Mac… As a long-time linux user, I can only say this :

    Do get a mac :-).

  • I dunno, *I* have a Mac but that doesn’t make me immune to wireless problems.

    I can see 15 APs from my house and have a fair amount of connectivity problems, even after switching to channel 1 (which I share with “only” 2 others that have approximately half my signal strength).

    Part of my problem maybe I’m broadcasting a signal from my desktop rather than a real wireless hub. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get a real device and place it about 10 feet from where I’m sitting.

  • I’ve fought with routers too. A couple times I could do everything on the Internet except websites. Email worked fine. FTP worked fine, ping worked fine, etc. 🙁

    My Ethernet based debugging cheatsheet:

    Start clean: turn everything off, unplug-replug all cables

    Turn off PC resident (software) firewalls

    Keep some IP addresses around. Accessing a website by its IP address is a great way to see if DNS is the problem.

    Try to access the website inside the router. This should tell you which side of the router is the problem.

    Try web, FTP, email, ping, tracert, etc. both by name and by IP address.

    Try a second PC wired to the same router to see if the first PC was the source of the problem.

    Try a different port on the router.

    Turn off logging and UPnP in the router.

    Update the router firmware.

    Try directly connecting to broadband modem – after turning on PC resident firewall.

    Always have an extra router and extra Ethernet cables.

  • Philip Anderson

    I had a similar problem just three days ago with one of the new Belkin N1 wireless routers, but it turned out that the fault was in the cable modem. Apparently it was just a coincidence that I was changing routers when the cable modem failed. The flaky errors (could get but not anything involving email) looked exactly as if there was some port blocking going on, so I was convinced it was the router, but my ISP changed out the cable modem and all is well with the new router.