Thursday, December 27, 2007

Return to Toledo; Fixing the Landline

Entry for 19-25 December 2007:

Northern Ohio and southern Michigan got 6 to 10 inches the day we flew back from Glasgow. We kept expecting to be told that our Amsterdam-Detroit flight had been cancelled on account of snow, but it didn’t happen. We chased the sun from Amsterdam to Detroit, and were delighted that the sky was still light when we touched down in Detroit about 6 in the evening. Two more hours of daylight (8 am to 5 pm) here than in Scotland right now! What a difference! We felt better immediately.

The snow had stopped and the sky was clear, but there was about 10 inches of new snow on the ground, and Linda was too wiped out from shovelling driveways most of the day to come and get us. Inconvenient, but we were so grateful just to have made it this far, that it was as if a bubble of grace surrounded us, insulating from a sense of hassle or panic. After considering our options (hotel? rental car? taxi?), we sprang for a Checker Taxi Company taxi ride from Detroit Metro to Toledo, for US$110 plus tip. Under previous circumstances we had balked at the expense, but the rental car was more expensive and less convenient, the road conditions uncertain at best, and the jet lag rode heavily on our brains. Given all that, we were very pleased to pay the middle-aged African-American woman to take us home. Her Detroit accent washed over us pleasantly as she chattered at us in response to our questions about her work, her cars, and her life, grace upon grace as we rode south in her black Lincoln Continental, a tank over frozen waters.

Toledo had had about 6 inches, but Linda had shovelled us out (thanks, Linda!), so the driveway was passable. There is now a grand piano in our living room, which is interesting, more bookshelves, and new curtains to cut winter heat loss, but beyond that little has changed since August. Linda is on a low carb diet, but we had been doing preventive eating all day and weren’t that hungry. What we were was extremely tired… so we crashed.

The next morning a host of tasks fell on us, but principal among them was the fact that (a) the upstairs shower handle had come off and broken and (b) our telephone landline was dead. Also, my malpractice insurance had been allowed to expire, as had Diane’s nursing license; our accountant had gone to Florida again just when we needed her; and my life insurance company was trying to cut our benefits drastically again. However, there is nothing like a good engineering crisis to demand one’s total attention.

But first we had to pick Kenneth up from Cleveland, where he had just finished his Greek final and was anxiously waiting from us to come pick him up. We’d warned him that we might be delayed in picking him up, but still he groaned when he realized that we were going to be 3 hours late (he hates being late…). Still, he was very glad to see us again, and chattered at us most of the way back to Toledo, narrating us through his latest computer game music CD and explaining the difference between square and triangular wave forms in early game music technology.

After trouble-shooting and testing our landline, I determined that the problem was ours rather than the phone company’s. However, the internal phone wiring, emanating from a pair of terminals among the roof beams and joists of the laundry room in the basement, was a chaotic spaghetti of different colored wires and phone cables snaking in from all directions and ending in tangle of green, red, yellow and brown wires, some connected to one of the terminals, others not. At first this made no sense at all, but over the course of the next days, I gradually learned to read the pattern. Close inspection showed that there was a problem with the phone cable leading from the Network Interface Device (NID) on the outside of the house through two layers of siding and wall to one of the two internal terminals: The insulating plastic or rubber of this cable, which appeared to be at least 50 years old, was cracked and split near where it disappeared into a hole in the outer layer of aluminium siding.

The first hardware store we tried had gone out of business sometime in the past 3 years, so, with some dread, we drove down to the dreaded Home Depot (known among the family as Home Despot because it has driven almost all of the small hardware stores in town out of business). Tuesday afternoon turned out to be a brilliant time for a hardware chore: Instead of being ignored and left to wander hopelessly among the vast aisles of the place, we were flocked with helpers, often travelling in pairs, who passed us from one to another, so that in 10 minutes we had solutions to both of our engineering problems.

There then ensued a long process of figuring out (a) which of the 8 wires in the new phone cable attached to the which terminal (answer: white with blue stripes = green; blue with white stripes = red); (b) how to get through the two layers of siding and wall, where it turned out that the newer aluminum siding had been put up around the old phone cable such that the two holes didn’t line up at all (answer: drill a new hole through the aluminum siding to match the other hole, while Kenneth used the new wire to tap repeatedly against the outer siding until his arm developed cramps; and (c) what order to do this all in (answer: strip the inside end of the new phone line first and attach it to the terminal inside, because it’s harder to work up in the ceiling of the laundry room than to stand around outside – assuming that the weather wasn’t too horrible)

After attaching the new cable to the terminal, while making sure that the old wires were still attached, I went outside, stuck the end through the rubber grommet piece at the bottom of the network interface device, stripped the outer and inner coverings off of it, and attached the appropriate white and blue wires to the green and red terminals. I then tested the different internal phone lines, and discovered that the most commonly used phone jack, in the dining room, didn’t work.

I thought I’d gotten all the wires attached, but apparently I’d missed a pair, which had somehow come loose in the process. I had ignored this pair because it was the wrong color (orange and orange with white stripes), and because the wire went off in the opposite direction from the dining room. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about this type of wire, and so I didn’t know what polarity to use. I had Diane pick up the phone in the dining room and listen while I tested this pair of wires. This whole process involved tracking in and out of the house about 20 times, because whenever you work on the wiring you have to unplug the household wires from the phone company’s line, which carried 50 volts and can give a nasty shock.

Fortunately, the dining room phone circuit worked when I touched rogue pair of wires to the terminal. Success! I attached these additional wires firmly to the terminal, along with four pairs of green and red wires, feeling very proud of myself, and went off to visit Brendan and Mayumi in Cleveland for a couple of days.

Unfortunately, when we got back home again a couple of days later, the landline was dead again. It was extremely windy that day, and I wondered if the wind had done something to the new wire I’d run. No luck. After more testing and research, I concluded that the problem wasn’t the new wire I’d run, but instead was due to an internal short somewhere in the house phone circuits. That is, two wires were touching, closing the circuit and telling the phone company that a phone was off the hook, yielding a busy signal when called from the outside and a dead line from the inside. At this point, I didn’t feel up to tackling the internal phone wiring; however, AT&T’s service website and service phone line were both down. We resigned ourselves to sticking with our ancient cell phone for the immediate future.

After mulling it over for a day, I decided after all to tackle the internal wiring. With Brendan helping and my handy multi-meter, I first tested the new wire coming into the house and found it carrying 50 watts. I then disconnected the dodgy dining room line that I had had trouble with before: Viola’! Dial tone! The dining room line has a short in it (probably in the jack) and was taking down the internal landline whole system. I secured the other 5 pairs of wires (4 internal; 1 external) to the terminal, and taped over the dining room phone jack. Maybe I’ll try to fix that on my next trip back to Toledo, but for now this is good enough.

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