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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jack In The Box

On Sunday, I took my family to the local pool and we had an awesome time. My daughter loves the water and could stay there all day if given the chance. When we got home, my wife tried to call her Mother to tell her all about the fun the baby had. What she got was no dial tone. We tried every phone in the house and none of them worked. Now, I've been in this situation before. A few weeks ago, my alternator went out in my car and I had to call home for a ride. My Father-in-law was watching the little one while my wife was working and he answered the phone. After a few minutes of talking the line went dead and we couldn't a dial tone. Turns out that the battery had died in the cordless phone that he was using and it would not disconnect. I figured the same thing had happened here. It's happened before. The battery goes dead in a phone or the answering machine and the phone gets stuck in some sort of loop that you can't break.

I went to work that evening disconnecting every phone from the phone line and the electrical outlet. Next, I tried each phone individually to see if I could figure out which one was faulty. After an hour of retracing my steps I was no closer to a solution. My Mother-in-law worked for the phone company at one time so she has some trouble shooting skills at her disposal. She told me that I needed to take a phone and plug it into the line outside of the house at the box to figure out if the issue was in the house or the line. If it is in the line, it's the provider's issue. If it is in the house, it is mine. I told her that in the four years I've lived in that house I have never seen a box with a phone jack on the side of the house.

When we got home that night, it was too dark to try and search around the outside of the house for some mysterious and elusive box. We both had cell phones so we had some contact with the outside world. The next day I stewed and stewed about what could be wrong with the phones. I did a quick Google search and found that out that my provider had service issues on the day in question. Apparently, a malfunctioning router was able to cripple the phone service for about 14,000 customers. Eureka! It was their fault. All right, I'm not crazy, I'll just call the provider and.....wait a minute. I kept reading. Crews responded quickly and had service back up by 7:45 p.m. Well, what about me? How come I don't have service. What could possibly be the issue that singles me out in the crowd of 14,000? I began to sense that my entire evening would be plagued by this Indiana Jones like search for this phone jack outside my house. I would get home and relieve my babysitter so that I could strap the little one into her stroller and take her on a some snipe hunt looking for this outside jack. My Father-in-law is a technician and quite handy around the house. We both wandered around the outside of the house with baby in tow. The side of the house where the lines are coming in from the street is overgrown with vines, hastas, and peony plants. We traced the lines to the side of the house and only found one box, my electrical one. The phone line came down the side of the house and went right into a hole in the brick. "Well, that's great." I thought. Not only was there no jack, there was no box. The wire went straight into the house and it was obvious that it was above the ceiling from its placement above a glass block window. The last thing I want to do is go tearing up the ceiling trying to trace a phone line.

We went back inside and looked at the exposed rafters in my laundry room where all sorts of cabling runs along the ceiling. We found what appears to be the main phone wire running to a junction box on a stud wall at the other end of the laundry room. My Father-in-law said, "Well, there you go. See that opening on the bottom? That's your jack. Plug a phone in there and see if it works. I looked at the box and said, "There's no jack here." He then informed me that I would have to remove the cover and figure out if there are any frayed or broken wires. Now, instead of ripping up the ceiling, I was going to be dissecting a junction box and troubleshooting a bunch of wires. I don't have these types of skills. I've worked with plumbing and electrical wiring, but never have I looked at phone wires. I wouldn't know how to see if they were properly connected. Now, granted the provider experienced an outage roughly the same time I did. It seemed highly suspicious that they aren't connected. I think it was time I called the professionals.

I called the provider and waited on hold for about five minutes. After getting someone on the line, I explained what was happening. He tried calling my number and agreed that all he could get was continuous ringing. That indicated that I had service inside the house. He said I should try hooking a phone directly up to my modem in the telephone jack slot and see if I get a dial tone. If I don't then call for service. Now, here is where it gets really complicated. At that moment I realized I have cable phone service. My internet, cable, and phone service all come into the house on a standard cable line. That cable hooks into a modem that sits right on the desk next to my computer. From there it feeds directly into my cable line that supplies the house with television cable. It also feeds into a phone jack on the wall and supplies the rest of the house with my service.

Now I had a plan. I would take every phone from inside the house down to the modem and try each and every one in that modem jack. If one didn't work, then I could be certain it was a phone issue and could just remove that one from service allowing the connection to be broken from it. If all the phones worked, then I knew that it was a line issue and that would require a technician. I hated this idea just below ripping up the ceiling and above tearing a junction cover box off to investigate wiring. Still, at least I could tell what was not the cause and that's like Michelangelo carving David from a block of marble. Take away everything that isn't the statue. I prepared to get to work gathering all the phones up and taking down to the modem. I would have to string an extension cord to the desk to plug in the cordless models as I didn't have an open outlet handy within a few feet. At that moment, I had a thought. I better make sure the cord that runs from the modem to the wall jack was working. You see, since the modem handles the service into the house, one of the phone jacks has to serve as an input line and that feeds the rest of the wires in the house. That wall jack is right next to the computer and that wire runs right into that junction box I spoke of earlier. I decided to test the wire between the modem and the wall jack to make sure it was operational first. I took the phone that sits about five feet from the computer desk. My wife had tried it earlier from the modem and it worked. At least I had a working phone if I needed it. I was going to unravel the phone cord and use it to run between the modem and the wall jack. I reached down to disconnect the end of the cord that was in the wall jack when I nudged it. It sucked into the wall and I heard a distinctive "CLICK!"

It was at that point that I experienced both the thrill of victory and the feeling that I had completely wasted an afternoon on one of the first rules of technical support. That "CLICK" sound was the end of the phone jack snapping into place. Somehow, the phone cord became dislodged from the wall jack severing the connection from the rest of the house. I had this stupid look on my face as I ceased my experiment and took the phone back to other wall jack that served as an output. My wife looked at me and said, "What!?!" I reattached the phone to its original position and handed the phone to my wife. "Here, call somebody to take me away." She grabbed the phone and heard what I already knew was going to be there, a dial tone.

I felt like such a tool. I work on computers all day long. I have over 26 years of experience with computers and can pretty much figure out most gadgets and technology in just under five minutes. I am so smart that I am the biggest idiot on the planet. The first rule in technical support is to....and you can all say it with me....."MAKE SURE IT IS PLUGGED IN." I spent two days turning a crank in my head trying to figure out this problem only to have my head pop open and a big old clown come flying out of the top. And yet I am somehow relieved that I didn't go to step four of my ingenious plan. After trying the phones, checking the wires at the junction, and ripping up the ceiling, I was about to do the most drastic part. I was going to rip up all the greenery on the side of the house looking for a jack in the box.

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