Thursday, January 15, 2009

Zebra Debugging

You know the old saying, when you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras.  This is an example of almost that, but not quite.  I’d rather call it zebra debugging than call myself an idiot. :)

Context: We have Verizon FIOS in the house, with the DVR sharing option.  This means that there is a box in the living room that does all the recording, and a television upstairs where we can either watch live tv directly, or else watch recorded programs streamed from that box.  In the morning, my wife and I record the news that starts at 5am so we can fast forward through the commercials and just see the important bits while getting ready for the day.

Well this morning we woke up to a “Currently unavailable” message.  Hmmm, maybe that’s what happens in FIOS land when the “cable” is out.  Weather problems?  Nope, no snow yet, although there is supposed to be a little bit.

I try putting on the channel 7 news directly.  Nope – unavailable.  I bring up the DVR function (which refused to give me the news 2 minutes ago) and call up something that was recorded last night.  Works fine.  So I’ve learned that the box is in fact connected to the network and can get content.  Check.

I call support, to see if there is an outage.  I realize after a moment that Verizon has got an entirely automated system – the thing is going to walk me through rebooting boxes and all kinds of different things, which is actually fairly impressive, technologically.  It said, “State your problem”, I said, “Currently unavailable.”  It said, “Ok, you’re saying that one or more of your televisions is currently showing a Currently Unavailable screen, is that right?” and then walked me through detailed questions – all televisions?  all channels?  Good questions, and I had to say “Not sure”, because I wasn’t.  Hadn’t checked yet.

It then goes through some basic steps which were so painfully basic I had to give up on them. When I realized it was asking me slowly…very slowly….whether the television was actually turned on, I said “Operator” and started waiting in line for a human :).  I’m not kidding, it really did say things like “Walk over to the box.  Now, when you are there, say Next Step.  Or say, Repeat that instruction” and “Once you are at the box, look for the yellow power light.  If you do not see it, press the power button.  Say Next Step when you are done…”

Anyway, back to the timeline.  The automated system did reboot the boxes for me. Still nothing.

So I go downstairs and check the base station, the one that does the recording.  Works fine, and comes up on some Blues Clues or something (Nick Jr, maybe?) that it was recording for the kids.  I check the kids room, and their tv also comes up fine on Sprout, the channel they live for.  So it’s localized to just the television upstairs, that’s weird.

So now I’m on hold, trying to figure this thing out myself.  Something about this specific box.  I cold boot the box by yanking the power cord….nothing.  I run through the checklist in my head – box works because it brings up guides and menus and all the usual things, it gets content that was previously recorded.  I also note that my phone and internet have not gone out.  So literally the problem is that this box is not receiving a live television signal.

It dawns on me that I’ve been messing with the router.  I have two in the house, the FIOS one and my original internal network.  Because of problems with some machines I had started recently using them to back each other up wirelessly, so some of my machines are connected directly to the FIOS router.  Could there be an IP clash?  I start checking the System Info on the cable boxes and comparing it to the config information on my laptop….netbook….iPhone.  Looks like there might be, there seems to be no clear designation where this router serves up wireless addresses in the 100+ block or some such like other routers do.

At this point the rep comes on the phone and tells me, ready for this?  “It’s a local outage.  Just local channels.”



My upstairs television was tuned to channel 7, a local channel.  When I rebooted it, it came back up on channel 2, a local channel.  My two televisions downstairs were both on cable channels, and after seeing a live signal I never thought to try different channels.  I put my upstairs television on the Sprout channel.  Works fine.

I say, “You know, given that you have my phone number and address, perhaps an automated message right up front would have saved me all this time?”

“Yes, sir,” she responds, “We did just update that message.”

“So you’re telling me that if I’d called 10 minutes later I would have known this and not have had to sit and wait for you to tell me?”

“Sorry about that.”

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