Saturday, August 22, 2009

Excellent Rant on a Congresscritter...

I Love My ISP...

Earlier this year I switched from WildBlue (a satellite ISP) to SDWISP, a small terrestrial wireless network serving the valleys of Eastern San Diego County. This is a network based on point-to-point high-bandwidth radio links that connect a point-of-presence in each valley served with the wired Internet infrastructure. In our case, that means a point-to-point that connects a wired Internet connection in Alpine to a hill in Lawson Valley that's only a hundred yards or so from our home. Very nice!

But even better than the technology is the service we get from Eric Williams, the entrepreneur who founded and runs SDWISP. Unlike any other ISP I've ever dealt with (and that's a long list, both personally and professionally), Eric always responds positively and effectively. In the end, the problem always gets solved, and expeditiously, too. And there are always smiles and handshakes involved.

Today we had yet another example of his superb service. For several days we've been having intermittent trouble accessing the Internet. Today I spent some time troubleshooting it, and I discovered that problem was occuring somewhere outside my little network – either on SDWISP's network or on their Internet provider's network. I couldn't tell which. The symptom I got was a "destination unreachable" message from SDWISP's router, but that could mean lots of different things.

So I sent Eric an email describing the situation, and in a short while I got a call back from him. We talked about it briefly, and then he remembered a tweak he'd made just a week ago to the router that was sending me those messages. This tweak was an effort to tighten up security on his router (a good thing!), made at the recommendation of the router vendor. But when he and I realized what that setting was doing, we realized it might well be the source of my problem. Right then and there, Eric turned off that setting. I tested it, and sure enough, that was the source of the trouble. Problem solved!

With most ISPs I'd have spent weeks convincing them that there was an issue that they were causing, then I'd wait more weeks for them to figure out what they were going to do about it. If anything.

I just love having a little local ISP...

The Talibani and the Jew...

Via my mom:
A fleeing Taliban, desperate for water, was plodding through the Afghanistan desert when he saw something far off in the distance.

Hoping to find water, he hurried toward the object, only to find a little old Jewish man at a small stand selling ties.

The Taliban asked: 'Do you have water?'

The Jewish man replied: 'I have no water. Would you like to buy a tie? They are only US$5 ....'

The Taliban shouted: 'Idiot! I do not need an over-priced tie. I need water! I should kill you, but I must find water first!'

'OK,' said the old Jewish man, 'it does not matter that you do not want to buy a tie and that you hate me.

'I will show you that I am bigger than that. If you continue over that hill to the east for about two miles, you will find a lovely restaurant.

'It has all the ice cold water you need. Shalom.'

Muttering, the Taliban staggered away over the hill. Several hours later he staggered back, almost dead.

'Your damn brother won't let me in without a tie!'

A Small Victory...

Seven or eight years ago, we bought a large-screen HDTV. After doing quite a bit of research on the various technologies and models, we eventually settled on a rear-projection triple-CRT model: the Pioneer Elite Pro-620HD.

It's a monster of a TV. If the inside of the cabinet were hollow, you could use it as a residence for 3 or 4 families in some parts of the world.

We've really enjoyed this television. The picture is superb, and the user-tweakable digital color convergence has allowed us to keep it that way for all these years (I adjust it every 18 months or so).

But a couple of days ago it just quit working. The symptoms were not at all encouraging: when you tried to turn it on, the green power light would come on for a fraction of a second, you could hear some relays clicking, and then it just shut down again.

A few minutes on the web and I learned several depressing things: (1) Pioneer no longer supported this prehistoric model in any shape, way, or form (including at their authorized service centers); (2) nobody has any spare parts for it; and (3) there apparently is no longer any such thing as a television repair shop.

I was on my own.

A few more minutes of searching for our TV's symptoms led me to several articles and forum posts. There I learned that this model had a history of exactly this failure – and that at least for one person, re-soldering some “cold” solder joints on the low-voltage power supply circuit board fixed the problem. I also knew from long past experience as an electronics tech that cleaning dirt (especially away from high-voltage components) and cleaning/reseating connectors could often cure a problem.

So I decided to take the back off the beast and see what I could do. The thing was quite expensive, and I didn't want to just throw it away without even trying.

First came the easy part: cleaning off the accumulated dust of years, and reseating the connections. As I was doing this, I could observe (for the first time, actually) all the electronics in this TV. A couple of impressions: it was very nicely made (trust me, not all electronic equipment is!), and there was an awful lot of electronics. I counted 9 circuit boards in the area I could see, and I don't doubt there were more tucked away in parts of the cabinet I couldn't see.

After the cleaning/reseating, we tested. No joy. The symptoms were identical. So I decided to go for the more difficult task of removing, cleaning, examining, resoldering, and replacing the power supply board.

There are actually two power supply boards in this TV: a low-voltage and a high-voltage board. The low-voltage board was the culprit in the article I'd read online, and fortunately it was the easier of the two to get out. The board is mounted vertically at the extreme right side of the cabinet, as you're looking in from the back. There were 17 screws and 11 connectors to remove, and then out it popped. Took only a few minutes to get it out.

Then I took it to our kitchen table, and carefully examined it in the bright sunlight. It was a largish (about 12 x 18 inches) single-sided circuit board with dozens of large, high-power components on it (all of this is typical for a power supply). Right away it was obvious that someone had worked on this board since it was manufactured. The giveaway was that 30 or so solder joints had brown rosin residue remaining – something you don't see on boards that were soldered by machine (the rosin all gets cleaned off with solvents). A little more examination and I saw a pattern: the resoldered joints were larger than the majority of the joints. That led to a theory on my part: that Pioneer had a manufacturing problem that caused cold solder joints on the larger joints on the board (and being a power supply board, it had quite a few of these). Larger solder joints do require more heat, and they are tricky to get right in an automated soldering machine, so this was at least plausible.

So I resoldered every one of the large solder joints on the board – something like 175 of them. The hardest part of this chore was spotting them – my eyes don't seem to work quite as well as they used to. I've done a lot of soldering in my day, and apparently I didn't forget how (it's like riding a bicycle, you know). In the course of carefully looking for each of those large joints, I spotted 3 that looked like they might be cold solder joints, and one definite bad joint, complete with cracks.

When I finished all the soldering, we put everything back together and tried it out. Much celebrating ensued – the danged thing worked, and it has kept on working. Debbie (the primary consumer of TV around here) was very happy to have her TV back, and we were both very happy that we didn't need to go out and buy another TV.

A small victory, to be sure...but it really does feel very good to have had it!