Sunday, December 10, 2006

Teaching an old dog new tricks

This month my parents, luddites to the extreme, ventured into the world of high speed internet. For years I had been trying to convince them it was time to upgrade their pokey 28.8kbps dialup account to more current technology, only to receive a response of, "what the hell do I need to download spam faster for?". Now, mind you while my dad does have a relatively up-to-date computer, the display is determinedly set to 640x480 VGA setting so each icon on the desktop is the size of Rhode Island, and it sits across the room from my mothers' Brother Word Processor which she uses proudly, much like Abraham Lincoln took pride in the writing he did with a piece of charcoal on the back of a shovel while sitting on the dirt floor of his log cabin.

So one day, my dad decided to call AT&T customer service in hopes of getting a cheaper cell phone (yes, they have a cell phone, but it's never on and they don't know how to use the voicemail). The kindly AT&T representative pointed out that he was spending more in home long distance calls than the country of Ghana spends on health care, and suggested a package that included free long distance, a new cell phone plan, and yes...even high-speed DSL. Finally, it was time.

The next week or so consisted of a series of issues worthy of any tech support-of-the-month review. First of all, AT&T sent the hardware package to the house, but the UPS guy dropped it off at their front door. Silly man, little did he know that the last time the front door was used at my house was during my bar mitzvah. So after a slightly annoyed call back to AT&T, he found out where the package was and was ready to begin.

The directions were straightforward. Plug the modem into the computer's ethernet card. No problem. Except he discovered his computer didn't have an ethernet card. Well, I must say I was impressed to hear that he purchased and installed his own ethernet card with complete success. Quote from my dad: "I had my hands on a motherboard today!"

Then he learned about DSL telephone filters. I don't know much about this (I use a cable net connection) but as I understand it you must put some sort of doohickey on every phone in the house, or else when you pick up the phone your net connection dies. AT&T provided 4 filters in the package. Well, with the phones in each bathroom and the old rotary phone in the workshop, it turns out my parents have NINE phones in the house. No, they have not discovered the wonders of cordless yet, either. So, off to Radio shack to buy more filters.

Then came Privacy Manager. I'll let my dad explain. From his email:

With this new package of high speed internet, new phone plan, etc. came "caller ID". This is a highly sophisticated peace of electronic wizardry that accomplishes exactly the same thing as picking up the phone and saying "hello". On the list of great inventions, this should rank second only to the electric fork!

Anyway, it arrives Friday and I install it. On Saturday I get an E-mail from a friend who I had told to call me and leave some info on my answering machine. He said he tried but got some kind of funny message that my phone does not accept calls from "unannounced" callers. As you have probably already figured out, "Privacy Manager" was put in place as part of this package, but I did not know this. So, last night I'm at a meeting and I need to call Mom at home to get a piece of info. I get this same message telling me to enter my pin number or announce who I am. I say, "Alan". It calls mon and delivers a totally garbled message in which she is able to make out the word "Alan", but has no idea what to do, panics, and hangs up. The thing comes back to me and says "Sorry, we cannot complete your call". Gotta tell ya, it pissed me off! After two more tries, I finally got through with a message that Mom was able to understand and she pushed "1" and accepted my call.

First thing this morning, I decided to call the phone company instead of ripping the the f***ing thing off the wall (because I knew if I did, Lilly Tomlin would be sure to call me). They said, "Oh, the system comes with "Privacy Manager" built in", and then tried to convince me of all the wonderful benefits of having the phone company decide who could or could not call me (including not allowing me to call my own home!) I informed them that I would have no part of this idiocy and asked how I would go about mailing this thing back to them. He said, "Oh no, don't do that. I'll just turn off "Privacy Manager" from here!)

Along with all this, my dad spent perhaps a total of 20 or more hours on the phone with some customer service schlub from Bangalore as he tried ot get his email working. It seems AT&T's databases had so completely mangled his email account that it took a team of three level 1 reps, two level 2's, a squadron of Marines, a spatula and a scientist specializing in the field of quantum mechanics to resolve his password issues.

So now he's got high speed internet. Last I heard he was up til four in the morning watching YouTube videos. Mostly of classic Lily Tomlin videos.


Carrie Schonhoff said...

Mike, this is too funny! It's scary too because my mom and dad are talking about going to AT&T for DSL!!!!!!!!!

Natalie & Jessica's Dad said...

Ah, so YOU'RE the other person reading my blog ;-)