Tag Archives: dns

New Year, New Modem?

Recently, I noticed some sites were loading slowly in my web browser—in fact, in all of my browsers: Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. I mention that only because some sites are optimized for or against certain browsers, so I always advise clients with problematic webpages to try a different browser. Indeed, some of the “biggies” were loading slowly: Facebook, Google, justcuteanimals.com, etc. I wanted to see if this was happening only to me, or if there were larger issues afoot.

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Why, what do YOU look at on the internet? (Source: justcuteanimals.com, click the photo to go to that site.)

“Is It Just Me?”

The first thing I do when a website won’t load for me, is to go to downforeveryoneorjustme.com; or if you prefer brevity, www.isup.me. As you would imagine, it’s a straightforward site: you enter the problematic domain into the field (for example, “google.com”), and it tells you either, “It’s just you. http://google.com is up;” or, “It’s not just you! http://google.com looks down from here.” Seeing that a site is down may not resolve all your frustrations, but at least you can rest assured that everybody is missing out on the same cute animals you are. Misery loves company, after all. On the other hand, if you’re the only one who can’t see the page, it’s time to keep troubleshooting.

There is an additional site that I recommend, which serves the same purpose, but with more detailed results: Isitdownorjust.me. Interestingly enough, the two testing sites gave different results when I went to test Youtube.com. When testing connections, I always recommend getting a second opinion (if not more).

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The results from downforeveryoneorjustme.com…

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…and the results from isitdownorjust.me, taken at the same time.

 

Checking In With the Mothership

This step can be frustrating, as it involves getting on the phone and potentially waiting on hold along with everyone else who might be experiencing the same issue. Since those websites were down for “just me,” I had to call Spectrum (née Time Warner Cable) to see what was the holdup. The friendly tech support operator—yes, even I have to call tech support from time to time—checked to see if there were an outage in my area. Nope, everything was working on his end, and the lines to my modem and back were live and speedy. We determined the “speedy” aspect by running speed tests on the following sites:

Fast.com: Owned by Netflix, this is a no-frills, straightforward meter of download speed, measured in Megabits per second (Mbps). It doesn’t say anything else, but it’s a great at-a-glance method for checking your numbers. I’m paying Spectrum for up to 300 Mbps, so as long as my results (when connected wirelessly) are between 200 and 300, I’m happy.

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Fast.com, when all you need to know is your download speed.

Speedtest.net: Fast.com’s results screen includes a link to double-check the results on this site, run by ookla.com, “The Definitive Source for Global Internet Metrics.” Speedtest.net gives not only the download speed; but the upload speed (in most cases, a fraction of download speed—which is fine for most home & small office users), and the very useful latency, or “ping” number.

According to Wikipedia, “[Ping] measures the round-trip time for messages sent from the originating host to a destination computer that are echoed back to the source. The name comes from active sonar terminology that sends a pulse of sound and listens for the echo to detect objects under water.” I often explain that when you run Ping, your computer shouts, “Marco!” and measures how long it takes for the site it’s testing to reply, “Polo!” This response time is typically measured in milliseconds (ms). In most broadband connections, you want low double-digit, or even single-digit ping times. On a test I ran, the latency was a respectable 14 ms. The download speed was 260 Mbps on fast.com, and 285 on speedtest.net.

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Speedtest.net’s results are more detailed than fast.com.

The friendly Spectrum operator advised me to try one more testing site:

Speedof.me: I confess, I hadn’t heard of this one before (this is what you get when you don’t have Netflix’s marketing budget or Ookla’s “definitive source” reputation). I started the testing process; and unlike speedtest (to say nothing of fast.com), it was much more thorough, engaging in a barrage of speed tests both downstream and upstream. After averaging the results, speedof.me reported a download speed of only 225.75 Mbps and an upload speed of 24.93 Mbps, with a latency of 18ms.

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Speedof.me is definitely the most detailed, albeit the least known, of the three sites.

It was fascinating seeing the variations in results among the sites; but that didn’t bring me any closer to loading cute animals! It was at this point that the Spectrum operator told me to flush my cache.

“Flush My What?

I certainly felt at this point that paying Spectrum for internet service was, indeed, “flushing my cash.” But the Spectrum operator explained that computers and other online devices store internet settings in an onboard cache (similar to how websites load their images on your computer so that when you visit them again, you don’t have to wait for the entire site to load from scratch). In this case, what’s stored are settings regarding my computer’s communication with the Domain Name System (DNS).

From a discussion on superuser.com:

DNS servers convert a domain name (such as example.com) into an IP address (in this case 192.0.32.10). The mapping of names to numbers can change from time to time.

Your computer holds a record of DNS entries to save looking them up every time. This is your DNS cache. You can delete those records (flush the cache) any time you like.

If a website has recently moved servers, you might see the old website for a while. Flushing your DNS cache might help.

Operating on the premise that flushing the DNS cache might help me get my cute animal pictures, I asked how to do that. As it turns out, different devices use different methods for flushing DNS caches.

On my Mac, I had to open Terminal (a daunting prospect for many; but if you type carefully, you shouldn’t get results other than what’s expected). With the operator’s patient guidance, I typed precisely what he told me over the phone, including whatever spaces and punctuation he said—and not adding any of my own. If you need to flush the DNS cache on your Mac, you can copy and paste the following threads, instead of having to retype (and potentially mistype) the commands.

macOS Sierra (the latest version, 10.12) and versions back to 10.10.4:

sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder

If your Mac is running an older OS, the process to flush the cache is as follows:

OSX 10.10.0 – 10.10.3:

sudo discoveryutil mdnsflushcache

OSX 10.7  – 10.8 – 10.9

sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder

OSX 10.5 – 10.6

sudo dscacheutil -flushcache

If you’re not sure which version of macOS you’re running, you can find that by clicking the apple logo at the upper-left corner of your screen, then selecting “About this Mac.” If your Mac is running 10.4 “Tiger,” bear in mind that that software is from 2005, and you may have bigger problems than just some websites not loading.

If you have a Windows machine, all you need to do to flush the DNS cache is open the “Run” dialog (Windows Key and the R Key on your keyboard) and type or paste the following:

ipconfig /flushdns

Clearing caches on mobile devices like iPhones and iPads (but not necessarily just those models) can be as simple as going into Airplane Mode, which resets network connections. Once you leave Airplane Mode, the mobile device has to reconnect with the DNS server, and new settings should come into the device at this point.

Note: If your iPhone or iPad needs more advanced help than just going into Airplane mode, follow these steps at OSXDaily for an “industrial” flushing: http://osxdaily.com/2015/03/31/clear-dns-cache-ios/

And if you have a device other than what’s listed above, contact me and let’s see what we can find out. I could say, “Google it;” but if google.com is down for you, that would be cruel. What are you supposed to do, “Bing it,” like an animal?

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We laugh to keep from crying. Thank you, Triumph. (Source: memegenerator.net)

The Nuclear Option

Clearing my DNS Cache helped somewhat; but while I was working, I noticed the back of my cable modem was hotter than usual. Perhaps there was more to this than just system settings? Here’s the ugly truth of high-speed internet: modems wear out. I, myself, had replaced my modem once since only 2014. Since I buy my modems instead of renting them, this can be an expensive prospect. One school of thought advises to rent the modem from the cable company; so when it goes bad (as any electronic device would if you never turned it off), you can swap it out for a “new” one for no further charge than your monthly rental fee. But here’s another ugly truth: you have no idea the condition of whatever modem you’re renting from the cable company. I’d rather take my chances with a factory-new modem I bought at Best Buy. Besides, even if I have to replace the modem every what, two to three years? Depending on the rental fees, it still pays for itself after a year of use. And tech snob that I am, I can be sure that the modem I’m using meets the latest specs for speed and compatibility.

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Of course I chose the one on the right. It has the highest speed, the most channels, and the most stars! Actually, that last metric may not be super-scientific… (Source: surfboard.com)

So I picked up a new modem: an Arris SURFboard® SB6190, which replaced my iffy 6183 from a few years ago. I’m happy to say I don’t use all-in-one modem/routers, so I didn’t have to reset any of my wifi settings. I plugged the new modem into my existing wireless router; called Spectrum to activate my new modem; and an 11-minute phone call later, I was back up and running.

And yes, the adorable animals were back.

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The picture loads fast enough, but it’s awfully fuzzy! (Source: justcuteanimals.com)

UPDATE: While prepping this blog post for publication, I discovered the same slowdown on some sites (but not my entire internet–Spotify didn’t have any issues, for example). I discovered a service that grades webpages based on their load time and any issues unique to those sites. Pingdom.com tests website speeds and explains how they come to their grade.

For example, Homewithtech.com gets a B, and would have gotten an A-rating, if the graphics we use on our front page didn’t have “short freshness lifetime.” Definitely worth factoring in during the next site update.

Compare that with justcuteanimals.com, which squeaked by with a C!

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Click the image to try Pingdom.com’s full page test.

Pingdom also checks “DNS Health,” to help suss out why specific pages load slower than others. I tested homewithtech.com there, too, and I’m happy to report: “Test finished successfully, no errors or warnings.”

Seeing that some of the sites I wanted to use weren’t passing muster on Pingdom gave me some solace. They weren’t “down,” per se, but they weren’t winning any races, either. Now that I know the problem isn’t with my settings, my internet provider, or my hardware, I have resolved to sleep on it and see if the sites work any better the next day.

But I’m keeping my new modem. ■

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My Panic AT&Tack

My father, like many of us, has embraced the streaming video revolution. He has discovered the joys of binge-watching series and films on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Unfortunately, his viewing habits have been hamstrung by that bane of binge-watchers: a slow internet connection. Upon a recent visit, I took it upon myself to examine that connection, and to pursue faster alternatives. As you’ll see, no part of this process would turn out to be easy.

4K, Okay?

My parents subscribed to AT&T for land-line phone service, and for “high-speed” DSL internet service. In real terms, “high speed” DSL tops out at 5 megabits per second (mbps). In fairness, according to Netflix, this is fast enough to stream in “HD quality.” However, my dad has a newfangled 4K TV set, and Netflix is one of the first few content providers to offer 4K “Ultra HD” content. DSL’s speed limit means he wouldn’t get his money’s worth on that TV; he’d need at least five times that speed to get the full resolution. So I had a mission: find a faster connection so he could watch his Netflix in 4K.

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Netflix’s early UltraHD 4K content. Today, it’s much more than nature and Underwoods. (Source: techradar.com, click image or this caption for their article on Netflix in 4K)

In addition to their AT&T account, my parents subscribe to Time Warner Cable for television service. I, myself, use TWC for television and also for high-speed internet, so I called upon my experience in recommending that provider—well, not that provider per se, but the speeds they could offer. As of this writing, TWC’s fastest package is 300 mbps, a whopping 60 times the top speed of AT&T’s DSL service. Before adding internet service to their cable package, we did the legwork and bought a cable modem capable of those speeds, and then we connected it to the incoming cable line, so that when TWC activated the service, they’d be ready to go. Oh, if only it were that simple.

An Unfortunate Coincidence

I swear, I think the AT&T DSL modem saw this new, faster interloper, and asked, in its own way, “What’s she doing here?!”

Before even calling AT&T to discuss discontinuing DSL service, their modem jumped into a “panic mode” of its own, blinking red and green lights– and not in a festive, Christmas way. A call to AT&T would confirm this modem was failing, and that the only course of action would be to replace it outright. My folks weren’t quite ready to abandon DSL service altogether in favor of cable internet, so this meant a trip to the local AT&T store to pick up a new DSL modem.

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Pictured: a non-working AT&T DSL modem. Yeah, that’s about right. (Source: att.com)

“Let’s try this one. Ok, now let’s try this other one.”

Racing in to the AT&T store the next morning, I engaged in the ritual familiar to many of us: I was greeted by an employee with a digital clipboard. This employee took my name, and let me know that I was now in line to be helped by the next available store employee. Bear in mind, I wasn’t trying to add (or remove) service; I just wanted to buy a new modem. The previous day, Best Buy had made the process of purchasing a new cable modem fast and easy, with streamlined “in and out” service, as well as a healthy selection of cable modems from various brands; some with built-in wifi, some without.

The AT&T store, on the other hand, not only made me wait for the privilege of buying a DSL modem from them; but the modem was not available in other, non-AT&T stores (so much for a competitive market). In stark contrast to the selection at Best Buy, AT&T had two devices: one with wifi, one without. That’s it. I was reminded of the line from The Blues Brothers:

Since my parents had their previous modem connected to a third-party wireless router (namely, an Apple Time Capsule), I took it upon myself—when it was finally my turn for service, of course—to buy the non-wifi DSL modem and rush it back home. Connecting it was pretty straightforward: power cable from the outlet, phone cable from the jack, and ethernet cable to the router. Unfortunately, that was where the simplicity stopped.

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Apple’s Time Capsule (pre-2013 edition). Simplicity on a Spartan level. (Source: desktopreview.com)

Using my MacBook’s “Network Diagnostics” app (a lifesaver when setting up or troubleshooting a network), I found that with this new modem, something wasn’t fully connecting. Below is an image of a similarly-misaligned connection, as shown in MacWorld.

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Apple’s Network Diagnostics app. As you’d imagine, all the lights on the left should be green. (Source: MacWorld.com)

The goal of “all green lights” was eluding me. Again, I reached out to AT&T by phone and they assured me that this time, their modem was passing all of their tests, and that the issue must be with the Apple router. Fine. I called AppleCare.

My conversation with Apple was just as brief. After the standard tests, they were certain that their Time Capsule was in fine working order. If AT&T’s connection was working, and if the router was working, perhaps, they suggested, it was time to reach out to the DSL modem’s manufacturer directly, namely, Netgear.

Netgear tech support was the least helpful of the three I had spoken with at this point, primarily because they don’t take support responsibility for modems sold by AT&T. Frustrated, I decided the easiest way to solve this problem was to eliminate the variables. I returned to the AT&T store, waited my turn again, and exchanged the DSL modem for one with built-in wifi. I removed the Time Capsule from the equation, so everything was handled by AT&T, from the phone line coming out of the wall, to the wireless signal now permeating through the house.

A quick note: when you change wireless network names, you find out just how many devices were set up on the previous network, and now have to be reprogrammed. Some devices are easy to switch, with push-button Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS); but some demand the tedious process of typing in the new network’s password. Making matters worse, the default password printed on the new AT&T modem/router combo was an alphanumeric mishmash, guaranteed never to be memorized, and easily mistyped.

IP Myself

Less than a day into using this new wifi network, the problems returned. Some—but not all—websites were failing to load. Mail was sporadic, if not entirely disconnected. Speeds weren’t even achieving the modest 5 mbps limit promised by AT&T. And during this new—or continued—outage, my parents’ frustration continued to grow. A cliché in the tech support industry is to have the client say, “Things were working fine before you worked on it!” I was flummoxed. What could I have done to hamper their service this badly?

The issues we were experiencing are typically symptomatic of a failure of the Domain Name System (DNS), that system that translates word-based internet addresses (such as my own homewithtech.com, for example) into their proper numerical Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (216.250.121.27, if you were curious—but don’t try entering that into your browser for these reasons: http://ask-leo.com/why_doesnt_accessing_a_site_by_its_ip_address_work.html).

At the end of my rope, I called AT&T tech support yet again. This time, I was put on hold. After about 40 minutes of being told my call was important, I gave up and tried a different tack. Jumping on my laptop, I went to one of the sites that I could still access: att.com, and I engaged in their live chat support system. More and more, I’m recommending that my clients use chat instead of the phone support system, because I find you get the same level of know-how from the operator on the other end; but when typing, you don’t have to overcome the language barriers that tend to obstruct tech support phone calls these days.

The following screen capture shows how the conversation went with AT&T after three modems, four days, and countless headaches:

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AT&T never called. And Alan is my father’s name–it’s easier just to pretend I’m the account holder when speaking with tech support. 

AT&T didn’t resolve the DNS problem before I left town. But they did, in their own way, resolve the tension between myself and my parents. AT&T made it clear, in the immortal words of Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) in the film Good Will Hunting: “It’s not your fault.” And you know, sometimes even the most experienced techie needs to hear that once in a while.

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I would have continued to work with AT&T to resolve this issue, but “I had to go see about a girl.”

Chartering a new course

After getting to the bottom of the DSL crisis, my dad was all too happy to give Time Warner Cable a shot—but that was an ordeal in itself, thanks mostly to the fact that TWC is now Charter Spectrum.

In order to add cable internet service, they would have to build an all-new package, losing many cable channels in the process. I’m too emotionally exhausted from the AT&T trauma to go into every step of that process right now (perhaps in a future blog post), but I’m happy to say, long story short, they got the new cable internet up and running before I left. It was Spectrum’s starter package, 100 mbps, still 20 times faster than DSL’s top speed. And the best part is, I can confirm the Netflix feed now comes in at full 4K quality, with crystal-clear picture.

And there’s nothing better than a little clarity.