In which Bell Canada and a crappy modem team up to break my brain. Twice.

I have caffeine. And I have a bit of free time. That means geek entry. If technical things make your brain do melty things, there’s other stuff coming. Or, you can flip through some of what’s already posted. On the other hand, if brain damage is your thing, keep reading (Warning: long post is long). I don’t disappoint.

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Folks who’ve been reading me for a while know this already. But for the new ones, or the ones who haven’t yet found the time to go wandering back through really wicked old entries, a background. I used to work for Dell, back when Dell used to be cool and actually wanna pay me. Naturally, that meant insane amounts of exposure to large doses of the kind of stupid that would be lethal without the proper equipment. Or an international border. whichever was more convenient. The kinds of breakage I had a front row seat to, and the wicked nifty cool shapes my brain had to fold itself into just to figure out 1: how in the 7 levels of hell $person actually ended up breaking their thinggy what I’m being paid to fix, and 2: how in the 7 levels of hell I was going to fix it without a small miracle, copious amounts of caffeine and an IV drip of vodka–only one of which was actually practical while sitting in a call center in the middle of freaking Kanata, made origami look like something your 2-year-old pulled off in his sleep last night–appologies to anyone who’s 2-year-old may or may not have just been mildly offended. I’ve even seen software–and some hardware–who’s manufacturers make an honest attempt to break things by default (see: standards, Microsoft’s lack of). Usually, that kind of is an out-of-the-box flop, though. And usually, I’m the shmuck that gets to appologise to the customer because there really is no way to fix that broken, short of replacing the defective–not something you want to tell someone after they’ve just plunked down $400 for that self same defective. Now, I’m that customer. And Bell Canada gets to play the part of Microsoft.

I do all manner of geeky–and sometimes freaky–things from behind this network. Including helping May with setting up and administering an FTP server. Sometimes, it involves extreme amounts of stress testing. And sometimes, it just involves a simple hey, can someone from outside this network access $service on $port, or do I need to smack me a modem? Up until a few days ago, that was a simple process if you were me. Or, hell, if you were May, who’d tell you herself she’s not quite as technical-minded as I am but she’s kind of busy catching up on posting to her site at the moment. All either May or Myself had to do was pull up a chair and connect. Well, more or less. From behind the network, we could still pull up the external hostname, bounce to it from inside the network, and have it route the connection back to the network on the appropriate port. So basicly, it’s like picking up the landline and dialing your own phone number rather than *98 (or whatever your US equivalent is), and seeing if your voicemail picks up. At some point last week, though, Bell decided to turn off that ability.

I have no idea what the hell they changed, but they apparently pushed an update to the modem we’re using–we’re using Bell’s “Connection Hub”, if you’re curious–that pretty much broke standard networking. Now, if I’m sitting at the machine I’m using right now, behind an otherwise fully functional network, and I try to pull up a service I know is working as expected, I get nowhere. Or, rather, I get somewhere–it still tries to connect to the external hostname. It just times out, as opposed to connecting. Going back to the comparison from earlier, it’s like calling your own phone number, knowing you should be hearing your voicemail, and instead the phone just keeps ringing.

Thinking the modem just developed amnesia–they do that sometimes, I go in and have a look. Sure enough, it ate the settings I’d whipped up to actually allow the public to access things from outside this network. I’d seen this once or twice so was actually kind of expecting a whole other set of issues–amnesia of that variety is usually asign you’ll be soon replacing your modem. So while reimplementing the settings that let things be visible to the greater internet, I was internally preparing to have that conversation with both my ISP and my girlfriend. And only really not looking forward to one of those conversations. so I reminded the modem that yes, in fact, this is a friendly thing, and please to be letting John Q User play with it thanks much. And then I hoped like hell the damn thing wouldn’t forget me 10 minutes after I left the room. I tried connecting externally again, same result. Then we lost internet briefly. Well hell. Here comes 2008 all over again, it looked like. Still, when we came up, I smacked the reboot option–just to cover my ass. And because, hey, if it was 2008 all over again, we’d already lost our settings so what was I hurting? Another reconnection later, and I figure okay, let’s play find the server. Again, dialing my own phone number, expecting to hear my own voicemail, and instead hearing ring ring. Not cool, network. And not the standard performance, either.

Still suspecting the modem might be on its way out, I check again. Nope, all of our settings are there. The modem’s just being a Microsoft product (*). What the blue? So fine. I have access to a server that’s well beyond this network–hint: WTN’s sitting on it. So let’s go see if the service is even visible. Connect to the server, fire up two different FTP clients. Connect from the server, back to the network, to May’s FTP server–the thing I couldn’t reach by the external hostname from the local machine. Doesn’t it work like there’s nothing wrong in the slightest. I can connect, do what I do, then bail. No problem. Alright, next test. C’mere, CanYouSeeMe. Do we exist, at this IP address, and on this port? We do? And you say that more than once? Awesome. So John Q User can play with the thing after all. We just can’t bounce off the hostname anymore. Cute. So why the hell not, and can we fix it?

As it turns out, I don’t actually have an answer for that first question–I’m guessing Bell pushed out an update, but as locked down as that modem is (hint: Google doesn’t turn up any super nifty administrative access levels, a la the modem we had at the old apartment through Rogers), that’s just a guess over here–though that would be the only reason for the modem’s temporary bout of amnesia, assuming it’s not trying to warn us it’s going to fail tomorrow. As to the second question? After about 15 minutes poking around in the thing, it looks as though that has potentially no written all over it. Actually, poking around inside this modem tells me you can’t actually fix, or turn off, much over here–enter breakage the second.

The modem they gave us when we signed up for internets is one of those router combos. Because of the speeds we’re getting and the fact it’s fiber, this is kind of the only modem we can get from Bell–and I’ve not found an equivalent outside of Bell that I can be reasonably confident won’t crap itself in 6 months just on account of the connection expecting too much from the hardware. But so far as router combos go, even the ones provided by the ISP, the thing’s crippled. Problem the first: no bridge mode. As in, at all. At least, not in the sense that you can tell the modem to just be a dumb modem and hook up your own damn router. You can turn off DHCP and wireless access, but that’s about as far as it goes. Why? Part of it’s because, stupidly in my honest, Bell uses this exact same modem for its TV service–not much use to us at the moment, but a trivia type thing I found while poking. So, truely bridge mode would break that in several interesting and not so fun ways. That also means I can’t bypass Bell’s breakage and go buy me a new router–too bad, too, as there are several that’d do the trick quite nicely. But the modem would still be handling the trafick from the router, and playing cop where necessary–or rather, where Bell thinks it necessary, thus defeating the entire purpose of a second, better, more stable router. And problem the second: What access Bell gives you to this modem is, well, basic at best. You can configure wireless network settings, open whatever ports you need (see above for situations wherein that might not be practical), and set up management for dynamic DNS in the event you don’t want to have to fight with a client for doing exactly that (I don’t, personally). And that, right there, is about the extent of your access. Add an exception to the firewall so the router doesn’t block your mystery packet transfer? Not happening. Set it up so specific services aren’t available during certain times of day, or days of week? Not happening.

Rather than having the option of becoming a dumb modem, Bell handed us a dumb router. Then they broke it with an update. Awesome, yeah? And between the two of them, my brain suffered two very significant meltdowns. And I still don’t get to just say screw it and run my own damn router.

(*): The comparison may or may not have had a small something to do with the fact I just got done fighting with Outlook. Maybe. Or was that this morning? Oh well.

Update:

I’m not crazy! This caught someone else too, or at least one other someone else, pushing me just a little bit further towards the theory an update broke it. Awesome job, Microbell. Now when do ya get to fix me?

4 comments

  1. Michel

    Hi James, you are not crazy. Well maybe but you are in good company. I have a 2wire and since last Friday 12/07 to 12/08 I cannot access Netflix or access a VPN session I could before. I captured some packets and looks like bell is blocking some larger UDP packets. If I connect via a hotspot via my iPhones 3G connection.. All is good.

    Very weird

    • James

      Well hello there. I may not be crazy, but–er–2wire? Bell still unleashes those things? Willingly? Not sure if I’d call that crazy or just plain moronic.

      Although, you not being able to access Netflix somehow doesn’t surprise me all that much. “But… but… but piracy!”

  2. Marco

    I suffered a traumatic stress attack when after 3 days I figured out the bell connection hub does not support a home sharing network. My mass storage hub and blackberries can not be accessed by any of our pc’s. Bell support said “yes we know, there is nothing we can do and we do not support that issue” WOW!!!!!

    • James

      Heh. You, my friend, just got yourself lied to. This modem sucks, yes, but it most asuredly supports sharing via a network. And the 2 computers I’ve got doing so at the moment agree with me. It just doesn’t do much else very well.

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