Stories from tech 

Snowstorms and Residential Customers

I saw this tale from the prolific /u/bullshit_translator and it reminded me of a story of my own.

I've never been a fancy network engineer, but I used to be an onsite technician for a local computer store. These days I'm a corporate administratorsenior flunkie with a help desk role, which is almost as fun but I don't have as many crazy experiences, like showing up to fix a computer to find the man of the house in the living room in his briefs. (Not related to this story, but oof.)

In any case, it was a cold winter in the Pacific Northwest, where we routinely get snow in small to moderate amounts. I was tasked by a customer to speed up their computer during a snowy month where we'd gotten a few inches on the ground.

I arrived at the house, and it was laid out where the front door was on the 'long side' of the house, which ran perpendicular to the street. This meant there was a long walkway to the front door, which they have shoveled clear. There was a large pile of snow accumulated against the side of the house with the door, in between the front door and the street.

This was the mid '00s, so 'speed up the computer' usually translated into removing about 5 toolbars (on average) from the browser, and then fixing any other lingering problems I found. Sometimes I'd have to pull out HijackThis! or Autoruns to remove a piece of malware from a PC. This customer was a special case, however.

Me: Well, I've cleaned this up and the computer seems to run a bit better. Your network seems a bit sporadic, though.

Customer: Yeah, it's been doing that! It just stops, or goes really slow, for like the past week.

Me: frowns

I spend the next 30 minutes double checking the OS, looking at the network configuration, power cycling the DSL modem; nothing seemed to work. A ping test confirmed the issues she described, I was seeing large, variable amounts of packet loss. Sometimes it'd work fine for a minute, other times it would lose every other packet, and even worse sometimes it would just go dead for 30 seconds at a time. Phone filters were adequately installed (a lack of filters was often the cause of Internet distress), and the connection was wired to the PC so WiFi interference was out. I even tried changing out the network cable with a spare I had.

Me: Well, I think we've exhausted everything I can think of locally. At this point we may need to contact ISP and get support from them.

Customer: Yeah, I guess I can do that. It's weird that it just started this past week.

Me: This is DSL… has your phone quality been okay?

Customer: You know, we've gotten a lot of static over the past week as well.

Me: gears start turning A week, huh? That was just after it started snowing… right?

Customer: Yeah, I think so.

Me: … where's your phone box?

Customer: Oh, it's right out here. walks outside the front door, points to the large pile of snowr I hope we don't need to get to it, it's under all that snow.

Me: Well, uh, you can still call ISP, but I'm pretty sure I know what they're going to tell you.

The snow was definitely melting/re-freezing into the phone box and causing issues. I followed up a couple of weeks later and once they moved where they were shoveling snow things returned to normal.

This call taught me a very important lesson. As a computer guy, my first instinct is to test the things I know. The configuration, the installed applications, the cabling, and any internal networking. But when you're dealing with problems to your external connection, don't forget to investigate the connection between you and the greater Internet.

submitted by /u/ColdFury96
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