Sunday, August 12, 2018

Latency and its discontents

It’s been an odd summer. I know I haven’t done much with this blog for quite a few months now. My theoretical goal is to write something often enough to retain the ability to string more than two sentences together in a coherent thought, but it hasn’t been happening. No book reviews, no descriptions of national parks or forests visited, no nattering on about politics or current affairs, not even much about the fun and frustrations of volunteering at the county historical society’s museum. Nada. Zilch. Blank pages for weeks on end.

Why is a mystery. Sort of. I have had a mild case of ennui, but not enough to prevent me from doing other stuff. So I’m going to blame technology. We’ve been experiencing major Internet connection woes since returning from Arizona in April. It hadn’t been the world’s greatest service for awhile, but it got a lot worse this Spring. Pages refused to load – we kept getting the “aw, snap” message on Chrome saying a site was taking too long to respond – and connections would vanish before our eyes. I’d be on Facebook scrolling down to read my news feed, the device would do the electronic equivalent of blinking, and whichever browser I was in (Edge or Chrome) would shut down. The Intertubes weren’t just being slow. They were gone. I’d go from being in the middle of reading an article to staring at the icons on the desktop. When I reopened the browser I’d be treated to the “Chrome did not shut down properly. Would you like to restore?” message. Well, no shit it didn’t shut down properly. It totally closed without any human hands asking it to close, just a lousy Internet connection.

At first when weird stuff happened, I thought the problem was my notebook. It was cheap and I thought maybe it was simply dying. Then the S.O. got a new laptop (his old one gave up the ghost during the winter) and he had problems, too. So did  the  museum's smart phone when I happened to have it at home. Ergo, it wasn't my notebook. It was the ISP. Just to be sure, I took my notebook to a couple different locations where there was good public wifi. No issues whatsoever, no odd glitchy things happening.  The problems were worse with the notebook than with the S.O.'s laptop, but I figure it's because the notebook is the Microsoft version of a Chrome book. It's designed to sync with the cloud more or less continuously, and if access to the cloud vanishes the notebook gets more than a tad  erratic. 

By the time I  confirmed that it was not just the notebook's problem, we had already spent several frustrating months trying to get our service provider (Baraga Telephone, aka, which I’m figuring out is just another way of spelling Comcast because they’ve surely got the same model of customer service) to recognize that there was (and still is) a problem. The S.O. would call and complain. Whoever was on the other end always either sounded skeptical (“What do you mean you have a problem? Our readings don’t show a problem”) or lied (“I’ll put in a work order. Someone will call you back/come up to check things out/contact you soon."). No one called back, no one came up until I went ambling in to Baraga Tel’s office and complained in person. I brought my notebook along so I could show them screen shots of the weirdness that had been happening. And, yes, then they treated the complaints seriously but it shouldn’t have taken me standing in the lobby being an obnoxious old lady to get them to listen.

At about the same time, the S.O. discovered and installed an app that measures the data flow in both directions. What most people don’t realize because the Internet tends to get talked about using pipe analogies, like the flow of water through a hose, is that the data flow is a two-way thing. It doesn’t matter how fast data is reaching us if then it can’t bounce back quickly. The communication back to the server is called latency and is measured in milliseconds. The longer it takes to get back to the server, the worse your Internet service is going to be. Normal latency for DSL (which is what we have) is something like 40 to 50 milliseconds. The graph for latency should look like a fairly smooth line, definite ups and downs but nothing dramatic, you now, minor variations from maybe somewhere around 40 to up around 50 and then down again, but no huge spikes.

Well, we get spikes. We get dramatic spikes. The S.O. has been tracking those spikes. We’ve had some hit over 2,000. We also get bright red lines that last for anywhere from a blip to several minutes. The bright red line means no Internet service whatsoever. 

We did succeed in getting Baraga Telephone to come up and check things out. The first time they were up, they discovered the neighbor’s line had a section that lightning had fried. So they fixed it – I told the S.O. that the next time he sees Tom to tell him he can thank us for his improved service – but they didn’t find anything on our line. They did, however, concede there is a problem. So they came up again. This time the lineman found a short section on our line that had gotten fried. He came back to the house and was so proud of himself for replacing that piece. He was sure he’d cured the problem. Nope.

So where do things stand now? The lineman said the wires coming our way are old and of a type that is now considered obsolete. They should be replaced. Will they be replaced? If they are, that would no doubt fix our problem. Does Baraga Telephone management care enough about keeping three customers happy (the number of households on our road that use to replace a mile of not-cheap wire? I doubt it.

The S.O. and I have been contemplating being snowbirds again this coming winter. We’re still debating whether to apply to be volunteers at a national park or elsewhere for at least part of the winter, but it’s looking more and more like the Guppy will be in warmer climes when snow falls up here. If we do spend the winter away, we’ll devote a good part of it exploring alternatives to the Internet service we have now. Either that, or we’ll spend enough time in locations where there is neither cell nor Internet service for us to figure out that it’s possible to live without it.

Minor digression, but yet another mystery: why did the font change for the last two paragraphs (this one and the one above) when I never went into HTML to change the code?  It really is magic. 


  1. electronics are just another way to fuck up our day.

  2. Even Ukraine gets better service than that.
    I hear you about writing blogs. This summer I am not sure I can string two sentences together. Will try today. Maybe.

    1. Baraga Tel was here for an hour or so yesterday. They still have no clue. I'm starting to wonder if it's just a weird combination of the way various devices are positioned and the metal roof on the house messing with the radio waves for the wifi, although the S.O. did do a direct connection with his laptop to the modem and things were still erratic. I'm also wondering if the problem is in the wire that runs underground from the box on the pole into the house. That's about the only thing that hasn't been checked.


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