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1:38pm on Sunday, 2nd November, 2008:

Enthusiastic Engineers


I get problems with my home Internet line.

Every so often, a connection will hang and time out. It's most obvious with uploads, particularly of image files, but it also happens with downloads. It happens no matter which computer I use. It's not specific to a browser, to a client or to any other piece of comms software. It can happen in Firefox, WoW, LotRO; it can happen whether I'm using ftp or http.

It's not that my entire Internet link drops, it's just occasional connections that do. I can be watching a stuck Youtube video, but check out web pages fine. Back in the olde days, when we had direct connections between computers over noisy phone lines, I would have said it was a handshaking issue: your buffer gets full, you send a ^S to tell the sender to stop, then when you have room in the buffer you send a ^Q and the sender continues; if line noise corrupts that ^Q, you never get sent anything new because the server doesn't know you're ready to receive. We have similar things now buried in the transport layers of the Internet, and it's as if one of those is failing somehow. I suspect that it's because information is being sent too quickly and is getting lost.

Anyway, I complained to BT about this, and they escalated it to their technical department. Now, either the technical department is in India or it is entirely staffed by Indians — I've spoken to maybe half a dozen people there over the past three days, and they all have super-strong Indian accents. The thing is, though, they are super-keen to help. They really, really want my line to be fixed — it's almost as if it's a matter of pride or something. They keep calling me with new suggestions of things to do. Right now, for example, I have my firewall turned off, my router plugged directly into the BT test socket, and I'm not allowed to run BT's speed-testing software (a shame, because the last time I did it got stuck on that). It's great service!

What would make it even better would be if every time they called, they didn't think the problem was that I had a slow line. They call me and ask if my line speed is any better, when it's not the line speed I'm complaining about. I'm complaining about losing data being streamed across a single connection. My line is only capably of 2 gigabits per second anyway (it manages around 1.6), so there isn't much scope for squeezing much speed out of it. What I want is for it not to time me out if I try to send emails with picture attachments, or if I venture into the lower city of Shattrath in WoW.

They'll call me again tomorrow to find out how things are going. They'll ask me whether my line speed is improved. I'll have to explain all over again that it's not a line speed issue.

I'd get cross, if only they weren't so damned enthusiastic.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).