Uncovering Complexity : Adventures in System-Fixing

Last week, our Internet service mysteriously broke.

After several rounds of technical support, including a visit by a Bell Canada technician, all we were able to determine was the following:

  1. There were no software configuration problems at the Central Office.
  2. There were no physical problems with the phone line to our house.
  3. There were no physical problems with the modem.
  4. There were no software configuration problems with the modem.
  5. There did not appear to be any problems with the indoor phone jack.

So what did that leave?

All that remained (by process of elimination) was the few meters of wire between the outside of the house and the phone jack.

I was dreading this problem. The indoor phone wiring was the one part of this system where I couldn’t see an easy fix. Unless I asked Bell to send out a technician to wire up a new phone jack — but last time I checked, those kinds of house calls cost about $100 each, and I really didn’t want to have to spend that if I didn’t have to.

Yesterday, I made one final effort. I descended to the basement, attempting to find, first of all, where the phone line entered the house; and from there, any obvious break in the line. I was starting to think I’d have to splice in a new phone line by myself.

And then, I uncovered complexity.

I slid aside a couple of basement ceiling tiles, and the image on the left is what I found:

Complexity! Some people may have found this scary, but for me, it made my day. In my head, the problem immediately went from impossible to solvable, because I knew that somewhere in this tiny mess was the solution to my problem.

A few seconds prior, what I thought I would see was a single dual-pair phone wire. After, I saw reality for what it was: a complex of at least 7 wires and 5 jacks, plugged and cut and spliced, a mostly-dead assembly of old and new parts. I could easily see not only why some previous attempts to solve the problem had failed — wires I assumed were connected had in fact been cut — but also new possibilities for fixing the problem.

The solution turned out to be very simple indeed: I plugged the modem directly into one of these newly-found basement jacks, and it worked immediately. The modem did have to be relocated to the basement, but rather than an annoyance, the relocation was an improvement: instead of taking up space in the kitchen, it now fit securely out-of-sight in the rafters. (Second picture.)

In Conclusion

It is safe to say that reality is uglier and more complex than you think it is. But it also contains a solution to your problem. Uncover it!

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