eXtensions - Wednesday 7 March 2018


eXtensions - The Wednesday File (47): True Router Runabout - A Fix that Made Things Worse

By Graham K. Rogers


Last week I tried to have a minor problem fixed by the internet provider. Instead of checking their equipment, I was given a new router. This created an even worse problem and a second visit was needed. Unable to fix the new problem, the technician re-connected the older router.

Back in 2012-13, Apple seemed to be facing an onslaught from Wall Street and the share price was severely hit. I was concerned then and wondered why Wall Street would want Apple as a broken company. Some investors, most notably Carl Icahn, were increasing their shareholdings and if they amassed enough, they could change the shape of the board, remove the CEO (Tim Cook, who has since repaid the faith placed in him) and - an Icahn speciality - break the company up. Former workers of TWA have reserved a special place in Hell for Icahn.

One of the more important companies, along with Bell Labs, of the technological change we have seen in the last 25 years is Xerox, especially its PARC research establishment: Ethernet, the mouse, the GUI and more. They recently claimed that (Reuters, Business Insider) "Darwin Deason does not have any right to nominate directors to the company's board outside of the nomination window". Dearson and Icahn are trying to stop Japan's Fuji from taking over Xerox.

Recently, one of president trump's friends, Carl Icahn, managed to save himself some money by selling of $31.3 million in shares of Manitowoc Company Inc "a steel-related stock company" (Ryan Sit, Newsweek). Within days of the sales, trump announced his tariffs on steel to everyone's surprise, including those in the White House, and prices of steel-related stocks began to fall, followed by a dip in all stock prices. What an amazing coincidence. What absolute luck for Carl Icahn.

When asked whether trump talked to Icahn before the announcement, Sarah Sanders dodged the question: "I'm not aware of any of their - of a recent conversation between the two of them. So I'd have to verify and get back to you. But I'm not aware of any conversations" (Judd Legum, Think Progress). And we hear this morning that the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn has announced that he plans to resign. Rats. Sinking ship

I saw this week another fire allegedly caused by the iPhone reported on Patently Apple. Apple likes to look at any phones involved in such problems, and in the past has discovered the causes: a loose screw when an unauthorised fix was done; 3rd party chargers; frayed wiring. And there have been real battery problems on the way, although perhaps not as bad as seen by one competitor.

Although fire officials do say that the source of the fire was on the upholstered chair, the report does not confirm it was the iPhone 6: "The cellphone was on a combustible surface while charging. It was in the area of origin but was not ruled out or determined to be the igniting object or direct cause of the fire."

There are a couple of things that bother me about this $600,000 destroyed farmhouse in Canada: the insurance company will not let Apple anywhere near the device; and both the charger and part of the charging cable are untouched by the "devastating" fire. When I am charging my devices, unless I am in the room, I always leave them on a hard surface and not on an armchair.

I was pleased for a moment or two on Saturday when I read that, finally Formula One is to have a live feed for subscribers, presumably similar to what I have been enjoying for MotoGP for the last 2 or 3 years. I did put out a Cassandra comment on this on Sunday, but while I was researching the countries to be connected (the F1 report does not show them all) I found a list that has nothing for South-east Asia: not Thailand, not Malaysia, not even Singapore. I guess the TV monopolies are too strong, despite the falling viewer numbers. I cut the cable last year and had already dropped the F1 app this year, so they earn zero from me now.

I am now also thinking about subscribing to the Superbike Videopass, particularly with the next race scheduled for the Buriram Circuit (23-25 March). That money might have gone to F1, but not now.

A few weeks ago, I bought a WD 512GB SSD on Amazon, saving myself a few hundred baht over the local price of this unit. This is common here: with a unit price of about $200, which already makes a profit for retailers in the USA, the local price includes VAT (of course), but also adds on something more than the Amazon shipping and taxes fee. This was highlighted this week, when Amazon sent me a notification of a 310.47 baht refund for a reduced export fee. This means I paid 6952.53 baht for a disk that is on sale for 7990 baht and the saving was actually just over 1,000 baht (about $33).

There is a saying in motorcycle maintenance: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The same may apply to networks. My home WiFi has been working quite well, except for one (relatively) minor problem. If the power goes off, it takes a long time for the internet to come back online. As the last week had seen an unusual number of power cuts (3 last Wednesday before I went to work), I wondered about this.

The condo system is not connected directly to the outside world as my last house had been. I think there is a receiver (for want of a better term) in the block and each unit links to that (see below), so when the power goes off, although the fans and the lights all come on, users need to wait for that receiver to come online before the outside world is accessible. The time this takes seems to have been lengthening of late, and it sometimes needs me to restart my router three times.

I don't use the WiFi from the router. I have an Apple Airport connected to the router by Ethernet, but that won't provide internet access until the router is connected. I wait for a couple of minutes before disconnecting, and then each restart takes a minute or so and then I have to wait to see if the world is going to connect. I asked about this when I paid the bill this week. It was suggested that a technician pay a call and maybe replace my unit. Silly me, I said Yes.

When he arrived at the condo I sat down with him and explained the restart problem, expecting him to check the condo receiver unit first. Instead, he brought a new Humax brand unit out of his bag and set it up.

It turns out I was on the right track. I checked with one of my colleagues at the Department of Electrical Engineering and as well as teaching the theory he sets these systems up for organisations. He confirmed that my "receiver" is known as a Fiber Distribution Box (FDB) or sometimes a Fiber distribution Cabinet (FDC).

Depending on the size of the condo and number of units, there may be more than one of these acting in a mother-child configuration. When there is a power cut, the unit(s) will reconnect when power is restored, in about 2 or 3 minutes. There may be problems, however, if the battery in the unit is depleted with the rebuilding of the routing table. As I thought: it is pointless giving me a new router if the FDB has not been checked.

Replacement WiFi Router

I have had no chance to try out the power cut problem - wouldn't you know it, after several days that saw cuts, power has been stable since. Internet seemed fine, with mail, browsing and all working fine. However. . . .

After the technician had left, I took a long lunch and walked round the streets in my area taking photographs with the iPhone X and my Hasselblad camera. I edited the iPhone pics, uploading some to Instagram and selected a number for a photographic essay I later put on my website. I am impressed with the output and use this far more often than the DSLR these days. Brad Nichol (DIYPhotography), this week compares RAW output from the iPhone and an Olympus EM5 MK 2 (Micro 4/3). On the iPhone he uses the ProCamera app, although he expects any app capable of RAW would produce the same quality. The results actually surprised him. He mentioned Iridient, an application I did not know. I looked at this and downloaded the demo version (it saves with a watermark), but this does not suit me at this time.


I test the images and markup pages on the Mac before uploading to the eXtensions site using FTP to transfer the files. When I tried this, the software I use, the trusty Fetch, seemed to make a connection, but could not display a file list. I tried several times, then resorted to the host web-upload system using a browser and uploaded the files, albeit slowly.

Once the page was up and running, I looked at what could be wrong: simple analysis. I tried Fetch on the Mac again, but each attempt gave me the same results. I checked for any update to Fetch, but I had the latest version. I was reasonably sure that this was not the problem as nothing had changed on the Mac since I had last used it, so tried the iPad where I use a utility called iFTP Pro. This also works on the iPhone and has saved me once or twice when away from home. Again, while a connection was made, no files were displayed.

Fetch iFTP Pro

I changed tack and connected the Mac to the internet using the Personal Hotspot through the iPhone. Using Fetch, there was an instant connection and file display. The most likely cause was obviously the new router, but I was unable to see easily how to open the necessary ports (20, 21, 115) in the Firewall. I found out why later.

On Saturday I went to the True office in Siam Paragon again and asked to speak to someone in English. I asked him what he knew about networks and FTP. I love the Deer in headlights look that appears on the face of those who know they are out of their depth. He called someone else over who also did not really know, so I explained further about firewall ports (80, 8080 for web) and the purpose of FTP. To his credit, he did go and look it up, but said it would be best for me to phone the True Helpline when I was home.

The helpline has an automatic voice response with no English options. I let it run, then pressed 0, hoping that would connect me to a person. It did, but the first person I spoke to admitted his English was close to zero and asked me to wait. Whoever I spoke to next had quite good English and knew what I was talking about. He checked my connection and told me that all ports on the firewall are open, which explained why I could only find a way to close ports. There is no reason, he said, for this to happen (accepting that it was) and he would check further.

On Sunday morning, I was waiting for the technician again. He called and said he was near, but when I asked when he would come, he said he would call back. It was someone from True (1242) who called and I had to explain the problem all over again: FTP, ports, firewall. Needless to say, my frustration was vented a little as I told the young man that I had explained this at the shop (to workers who were not technically) adept, and again to a technician on 1242 who did understand, yet here I was outlining the problem once more. I think the word I am looking for here is coordination.

Zyxel WiFi Router When the same technician who had brought the exchange router arrived, I demonstrated the problem to him: Fetch, iFTP Pro and the iPhone. He seemed to grasp the problem and spent some time trying to reconfigure the router by himself and under guidance from base. After around 40 minutes, he decided to reconnect the first (Zyxel) router. Once that was set up I tried Fetch. I was not wholly surprised to see that a connection was made properly. While he was there, I also checked using the iPad. iFTP Pro displayed the site files right away.

He took the router with him and said he would check it out. At work (remember I am based in the Electrical Engineering Department) the technician knew immediately what I was talking about when I said "FTP". When I explained the situation, he suggested a firmware problem, which is a possibility. The True technician will return on Thursday morning which will mean a third day of allowing time for something for which the cure was worse than the symptoms.

I reminded myself of the Flanders and Swann song, The Gas Man Cometh (still just as funny); there is also the Burl Ives' song, There's a hole in my Bucket. I always remember Harry Belafonte singing this.

I think I am going to cancel this.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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