Life without the Internet: Zapped off the grid

In my last article I described what it feels like to have your house struck by lightning. Luckily there were no injuries or structural damage (thanks for your kind words in the comments), but our gadgets and other electronics inside the house weren't so lucky.

In my last article I described what it feels like to have your house struck by lightning. Luckily there were no injuries or structural damage (thanks for your kind words in the comments), but our gadgets and other electronics inside the house weren't so lucky. This is their tale.

The first thing I noticed was that my computer wouldn't come on. I thought that was odd, since it's a laptop that works on battery power. A catalog of all the files I had neglected to back up flashed before my eyes. Materials for a book, family photographs, personal documents. Some of it I could recover, some I couldn't. Lesson learned. I glanced over at the wireless router. It was completely dead. Cycling the power didn't help. What else? I was about to find out...

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The kids and I walked around, trying everything else, assessing the damage. See the diagram above for a list. A dead Tivo box (the one with the lifetime service of course). A TV that wouldn't come on at first, but eventually did. Another Tivo that worked fine. Numerous UPS and Surge protector boxes were no protection against the damage.

I noticed it was getting warm upstairs and sure enough, the AC had been knocked out. Every single GFI circuit in the house had been tripped. The garage door didn't work, but resetting the circuit breaker fixed that. That gave me an idea about the laptop, so I replaced its battery and it came on. (I'll get around to backing up those files real soon.) I keep finding things that are broken, like another TV has sound but no picture, and a mattress air pump that won't.

The AC, internet, and telephone service seemed to be our top priorities so we pulled out our cell phones to start calling. Normally we'd look up the numbers on the internet, but that wasn't an option. Directory assistance gave the wrong number for Time Warner Cable, and it was after hours, but three different numbers and an hour on hold later got us a real person. They'd schedule a repair visit, she said, and hung up. Nobody ever showed up.

"We're bored," said the kids, cut off from Tivo and their favorite internet games. I discovered that Offline browsing in Internet Explorer is pretty useless. For Flash games, however, all is not lost. First, locate the directory where the browser keeps its local copies (for Windows IE7 it's C:/Documents and Settings/userid/Local Settings/Temporary Internet Files . Open this directory and look for the biggest files with the .swf extension. Don't double-click them; instead copy the ones you want to your desktop. Open IE, and drag one into the IE window, and the game will begin playing. Hopefully.

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Explaining to the kids about "live TV" was pretty amusing to me since I grew up without Tivo and with maybe 3 channels on a good day. First they had to learn what channel numbers their shows were on. And then (gasp!) they had to sit there and watch whatever was on. They moaned and groaned about not being able to pause and rewind the shows. Eventually they gave it up and went on to other activities. That was fine with me; I think they watch too much TV anyway. But broadcasters who don't like Tivo's and other DVRs should really take a hard look at how much those gadgets increase viewership and show loyalty. I think that would greatly outweigh any lost ad viewing time.

On Sunday, something amazing happened: My two sons decided on their own to play a game of Monopoly. With each other. Without fighting. And they were having fun! Maybe this internet thing is overrated after all. My wife is enjoying a day without constant phone interruptions too.

Later that day we wanted to go out to see the new Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie. Normally I'd go to movies.yahoo.com and look up the show time, but that wasn't possible any more. We took a guess at the time, and ended up sitting around waiting over an hour for the show to start. Luckily they had a networked racing game there (Ridge Racer V). Unluckily one of the games was dead so we couldn't do head-to-head racing. We got by. Excellent movie, by the way.

On Monday morning, Time-Warner was still AWOL so we called them again. After an adventure through the world's most random press-this-number-to-go-somewhere system and another hour on hold, they said that they had TOLD us the service guy would be there Tuesday morning and why were we bothering them again. They hadn't told us that, but whatever. A little later we notice the TWC truck at the neighbor's house. She had called Monday morning and they came right out. Argh. A trip next door and attempted bribe of the cable guy (doesn't everybody like ice-cream sandwiches?) failed to produce any results.

Someone called the house to remind me of an appointment, but the phones were still out. Google decided to release a new Android SDK that I'd been waiting for for ages, but I had no way to know. Being off the grid was starting to lose its appeal.

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By Tuesday I had replaced the phone system and the wireless router. I got the same phone (almost, the Panasonic KX-TG9334T), but this time I decided to try the Belkin N1 Vision Wireless Router. They claim a slightly higher range than the regular N1, and an LCD on the front can show the current upload and download speeds. Ok, ok, the real reason I got it is that it looks cool. Now I just needed the cable guy to show up. It was past time, so I checked my messages. Sure enough, there was a phone call. The cable guy had come early and thought we were out (we weren't) so he left. Double-argh! He agreed to come back after his next call, and he did.

After some testing, Mr. TWC informed me that my cable modem was dead. Well, duh. He had a replacement in the truck. Yeah! A few minutes later we were up and running, and I could get to all web sites except, oddly enough, google.com. Google's home page was redirected to a Time-Warner provisioning page. I restarted the router, cleared the cache, nothing helped. Eventually I figured out that closing the browser and re-opening it fixed the problem.

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I was happy, at least for a few minutes until I tried the computers upstairs. Still no internet up there. It turns out my Netgear XE103 Powerline Ethernet adapter had given up the ghost. No problem, I thought, a quick trip to the local Staples store would fix that. My wife set out to replace the box. The first person she talked to had no clue what she was talking about, so they went to the manager. He looked it up, and told her he could order a replacement, a Netgear HDX101. Was that compatible, she asked? Absolutely, he assured her, so she placed the order. Unfortunately the HDX101 is not compatible with the XE103/4 line. So we had to cancel that order and place another one through Amazon. "That was easy." Not.

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So at this point, we have phones (with 3 extra handsets), and we have internet downstairs (which means my wife and I can't use our computers because the kids are hogging them). The air conditioner is partially fixed, awaiting a new circuit board. The Tivo is still dead, but I've decided to replace it with a Time-Warner DVR which is supposed to arrive next week. And Select Comfort's mattress warranty doesn't cover "acts of God". We're not completely back up yet, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hmm, what was that noise? Sounds like thunder.

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