Power outage fries DSL modem and brings back kernel panics

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
December 23rd, 2012 • 11:30 am

Sometimes I really feel as if I am somehow cursed. The reality is that I am just too reliant on modern technology, of course, but so is almost everyone else. And the thought that most people have to go through situations like the one I went through yesterday morning is, strangely enough, not particularly comforting.

What happened is that we had a power outage during the night, probably due to high winds. The first sign was of course the alarm clock blinking, with the wrong time, when we woke up. Power outages are unfortunately a fact of life especially in rural Nova Scotia, although I must admit that, since our move to Annapolis Royal last April, we’ve had very few of them.

I didn’t think much of it until I went to the bathroom and walked past our Time Capsule, which is located in a corner of the corridor. (I find it too annoyingly noisy when it comes on to keep it in my office.) I saw that the normally solid-green light was amber and flashing. “Oh well,” I thought, “yet another network-related glitch after a power outage.” If only…

Of course, I soon discovered that our entire home network was down. Power-cycling didn’t help, so it was time for more advanced troubleshooting. I was soon able to narrow the problem down to the DSL modem itself. Its own power indicator was flashing red instead of solid green. The “DSL” indicator was solid green, but the “Internet” indicator was off.

I started fearing the worst. I called the phone company. To their credit, I didn’t have to wait long and the tech support representative was a very friendly lady. But she soon had to give me the very bad news that the power outage had somehow fried the modem and that they were going to have to send me a new one.

Of course, everything with phone companies is now centralized and there was no way that I could just go to a local office and pick one up. I had to wait for it to arrive in the mail. And it would take… “two to five business days”. Right in the middle of the holiday season, this very clearly meant that I might not receive it until the new year!

And so I was facing the prospect of a holiday season with no Internet access. Delightful!

Fortunately, I immediately thought of my sister-in-law’s house. They also have Internet access with the same company, and they are away at this time of year. I asked if I might be able to borrow their modem and use it in my house. The tech support representative didn’t see why not, although I did warn her that it was probably a different, much older modem. She said that I had nothing to lose by trying, and so I went to retrieve it. It turned out that they had two modems (for two different phone lines) and the second one was a more recent model, albeit still a different one from mine (which is also a wireless router, although I only use it as a modem and have my AirPort Extreme connected to it).

After much plugging and unplugging and waiting patiently (not!) for devices to recognize their environment and adjust to it, I was eventually able to make this modem work with my own phone line and achieve the same regular speeds as with my own modem. Phew!

And then I had a kernel panic. ARGH. It had been more than two weeks since the last one. (This particular problem is completely unpredictable.) When exactly is Apple finally going to take these problems with NVIDIA video cards and kernel panics in Mountain Lion 10.8.2 seriously? As far as I can tell from on-line research and from the feedback I have received via my blog and my Twitter account, quite a few people are affected, including people with Mac Pro machines that have more than one video card, but also MacBook Pro owners.

Of course, as soon as I restarted, I also had to deal with the fact that Mountain Lion’s Safari fails to resume properly after a restart, and also that, because of the experimenting I had had to do with the replacement modem by accessing its settings via the web, Safari had actually completely lost my last session with probably about 30 different web pages loaded in tabs and windows. Grrr.

And then I had another kernel panic.

That’s right, two in less than an hour, after none for two weeks. It looked like this power outage was really trying to completely ruin my holidays!

I finally gave up and unpacked the Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter that I bought last month in anticipation of such a situation. It’s a pricey device (over $100), but it enables me to connect both my 30” monitors to the same GeForce GT 120 video card and not use the second one. My hope is that this will somehow avoid the kernel panics altogether, since they only seem to affect Mac Pro owners with multiple video cards. I haven’t taken the unused video card out of the Mac Pro yet, but I will if I still get another kernel panic after all this.

For additional safety, I also went to the hardware store and bought a surge protector for the DSL modem in the basement. I don’t know if the modem failure was triggered by a power surge when the power came back on (no other equipment in the house was affected), but I’d rather not take any chances.

Then this morning I read Ted Landau’s recent column at Macworld, titled “Bugs & Fixes: Turning power off turns trouble on”. And I found more reasons to worry! Clearly the simple fact of turning stuff off and back on can bring about unwanted problems, and surge protectors themselves can add to the frustration.

Can I have a glitch-free holiday season now, please, Santa?

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