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When tech heads need tech support

Apparently doctors make the worst patients. Following that logic, technology journos have got to be among the most stubborn tech support callers.

commentary Apparently doctors make the worst patients. Following that logic, technology journos have got to be among the most stubborn tech support callers.

I recently decided to pack in my 512kbps Unwired Internet service and get in on some iiNet ADSL2+ action so that my Scrabulous games on Facebook might load that little bit faster.

Yes, I know. I work at CNET.com.au, Where Tech Becomes Life. But home Internet has never been a big deal to me. It'd be like working in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and coming home to a pantry full of Mars Bars.

Anyhow, after boasting of this indulgent scheme to anyone who would listen -- and receiving responses such as "Welcome to 2004" and "How did you get into this building?", I picked a plan online, selected a 4-port Belkin modem/wireless router (model F1PI241EGau) and handed over my bank details. Three business days later the promised device arrived, its dual antenna pointing toward heaven in a manner so endearing as to incur an affectionate -- though surreptitious -- pat from my trembling hand.

After swaddling the modem in blankets and love and carrying it home, I tore the box open with fumbling fingers and fed the requisite plugs into eager sockets. This was it. Access to the Web tubes at friction-free speeds and no need for my laptop to be tethered.

Only it was not to be.

Though my MacBook Pro engaged in friendly, animated conversation with Mr. Belkin via Ethernet, things got decidedly less amicable when I attempted to get the wireless component up and running. My Mac could see the network, but every time I attempted to connect I would receive a "There was an error joining the network" message.

There is nothing wrong with my AirPort. I know because I can -- theoretically -- connect to my neighbour's unsecured Wi-Fi network and download hundreds of megabytes worth of data.

I tried connecting via WEP encryption. Then WPA. Then none. Still the errors came.

I downloaded the latest firmware. I acquired every Mac software update available. I rebooted. I power cycled. Nada.

Reconfigured DHCP settings. Changed the router channel. Switched from mixed 802.11b/g mode to just b, then just g. Still getting the error message.

The next day at work I reluctantly picked up the phone and called iiNet's broadband support line. Being a tech head, I felt dirty -- the bad kind -- but what other options were there?

Ring ring. Press one; press five; please hold; your call will be monitored. Hi, my wireless isn't working. Oh, you don't offer support for wireless? I need to call Belkin? Dude, seriously. I've tried everything. Can I just send this thing back? I need a reference number from Belkin to prove that it doesn't work? I see. Oh no, the phone line's not faulty, that's just the sound of my teeth grinding. Righto. I'll be calling Belkin now.

Ring ring. Press one; press three; please hold. Hi, my wireless isn't working. OK, please don't send me an e-mail until I tell you the steps I've taken so far. No I mean it. I wrote a list. Let me throw some acronyms at you. WPA, DHCP, PPPoE, DNS -- I have waded through this alphabet soup and yielded nothing. Oh, I see. So there are known issues with this router and MacBook Pros? Why haven't these issues been publicised, even just a smidge? I reckon MacBook Pros are kind of popular. I could stand up from my desk chair and swing a cat right now and I would hit three MacBook Pro owners square in the face. Not including me. You'll send me an e-mail that will solve all my problems? Bonza. It will definitely work? OK, grand. Let me at it.

The e-mail arrives. The Word attachment looks familiar. I have followed these instructions before. They still don't work.

I still don't have a functioning wireless network. All I want is to be able to watch YouTube videos of penguins punching each other while I'm lying prone in bed with a bag of M&Ms on my abdomen. Is that such an unreasonable dream?

This whole episode has made me wonder how a non-tech person would have reacted when faced with similar wireless woes. If 802.11g won't work for me -- nor the two CNET.com.au editors I begged for help, both of whom are tertiary-educated in IT -- what hope does your granny Beryl have?

By the way, if you know the trick for getting a MacBook Pro to play nice with a Belkin wireless modem/router, please comment below. If it gets my Wi-Fi working, I will send you a prize. I wish I was kidding.