My Wireless Telephone Woes – Update

As promised, I called AT&T again on Friday, March 26th, 2004. I again called after 10pm, and although the recorded message warned of a hold time of less than 10 minutes, I waited about 40 minutes before actually speaking to someone. I felt a bit upset during the wait, and wanted to just hang up, but I didn’t want my emotions to get the best of me so I persisted and finally someone answered the phone. Again, and quite calmly now, I repeated my situation to the representative, citing that no improvement had occurred since my last call to them. Again, the only thing the representative could do was to file a “customer feedback form,” which is the official name for the first step of the process which I mentioned previously. The highlight of this call was that the representative was much more receptive of what I was saying, and took into account the two months of flawless reception. Hopefully, because of her attitude and understanding, she will write a clearer customer feedback form and someone will actually do something. In the meantime, all I can do is continue to be patient and continue to call AT&T so long as my service is not back up to the par that was set earlier this year. Finally, I thought of one more theory, and that is someone nearby may have purchased a wireless Ethernet product that is interfering with my signal. Unfortunately, I do not have wireless Ethernet, so I have no way of knowing if somebody has it nearby, and even if I did, I can’t prove or disprove its effects on my wireless reception. So, I will continue to wait, and will update this page as the situation progresses.

Update – April 12, 2004

Site Update 3-22-04

Added a little essay on my current problems with my mobile phone service. It’s not really computer related, but I wanted to get the word out, so please read it! Also, still working on CSS and newer ways of coding. Obviously, if you know HTML and you’ve read my code, you’ll know that I don’t know jack about HTML coding, and that all my knowledge dates back to 1996. Please forgive me, and please remember that it will take awhile for me to learn it, if at all. Thanks!

My Wireless Telephone Woes

I recently switched to AT&T Wireless because of problems with Cingular Wireless. In particular, reception with Cingular Wireless was very poor in my home, and almost nonexistent in my bedroom. This condition lasted for three years, the entire time that I was with Cingular. During those three years, friends with Cellular One and AT&T TDMA phones had absolutely no problems at all using their wireless phones in my bedroom, and when AT&T introduced GSM, it was the same. Thus, when number portability became a viable solution, I switched over to AT&T. Finally, I had full reception on my wireless phone, no dropped calls, and no stuttering during phone conversations.

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, March 3, I noticed that my wireless phone had zero reception, i.e. no incoming or outgoing calls were possible. The time was 10:00pm. For the rest of the night, I could not make or receive calls. The next day, reception was back to full, and I thought that the previous night was simply an anomaly. Then, starting around 10:00pm, the “AT&T Wireless” label indicating reception disappeared, indicating zero reception again. Now, I was thinking that perhaps AT&T was performing maintenance at around the same time each night. I waited until Friday, and once again, I had full reception during the day, and once again, reception disappeared around 10:00pm.

I called AT&T Wireless Customer Service at 1-866-293-4634 and explained the problem. Although I was put on hold for a long time, I remained patient and cordial while the representative researched the problem. We went through a few tests, such as trying different phones, to no avail. She also asked me a few questions and gave me some advice. Finally, she told me that AT&T was aware of the problem, and that they were working on it. She gave me a ticket number, 632-667, and also advised me to try using my phone at other locations to verify that it wasn’t my phone causing the problem. I didn’t mention it to her, but I thought she hadn’t listened to me because I had just told her I tried three different phones and they were all the same. Anyway, since I now knew that AT&T was aware of the problem, I was hopeful that the problem would soon be fixed.

During the next week, the problem became worse. Whereas previously the problem occurred only at night, it was now occurring during the day as well. Sometimes, while watching the reception bar, I would see it fluctuate wildly up and down, in addition to being at zero. At this point I had changed from hopeful to concerned. I decided to allow AT&T a full week to solve the problem, but they did not, so I called them again on Friday, March 12, 2004.

On this night, AT&T was experiencing technical difficulties, and didn’t have full access to their databases. Still, the representative was able to pull up the record of my previous call to assess the situation. I explained that the situation had gotten worse, and that the previous representative had given me a trouble ticket number with which I could follow up on the problem. He spent some time looking up the trouble ticket, and to my dismay he told me that this trouble ticket was regarding a problem in another area of the country not even close to California. Either the previous representative gave me the wrong number, or I had written down the wrong number. So, no luck there. Instead, the gentleman gave me a lengthy explanation on the intricacies of wireless phone service. He said that something must have changed in my neighborhood, and that any number of changes could affect the wireless signal. Construction, appliances, and wires were some of the changes he mentioned. He said that most likely, whatever began the interference would just as soon end it. He also explained that if enough people complain of poor reception, then, and only then, would AT&T issue a trouble ticket to take a look into the problem. He said that the previous representative had not really issued a trouble ticket, because a trouble ticket was not the first step of the process. Disappointed, though (surprisingly) still not upset, I thanked the gentleman for his thoroughness and ended the call.

Now, nine days later, my situation is unchanged. I still get periods of zero reception at night and during the day. I never get full constant seven bars like I did before. My phone battery lasts a lot less because of the constant change in reception, and I have to charge it far more frequently than during the initial two months of service. I also have to constantly check my phone to see if it’s on zero reception, in case my girlfriend needs to call me. And frankly, I am beginning to get a little upset, because I switched to AT&T to avoid this very problem. I also have a few questions and theories regarding this problem.

First, based on what the second representative told me, what household item can affect a cellular signal so dramatically that the bars on my phone fluctuate so wildly up and down? On the same note, what “neighborhood item” can do the same? Second, why did the problem only occur at night in its initial stages, and then “evolve” into a constant problem? Third, why is my bedroom such a bad place for cellular signals? My bedroom has only two walls that are “inside” the rest of my house. The other two walls are outside walls, and one of them has a giant window. The walls are wooden. Granted, our floor is sandwiched between two others, and the open space outside my room is only open insofar as it is the open space between two buildings. Also, there is a metal fire escape ladder outside my window. I don’t know if that would affect cellular signals. If it did, however, then how can the two months of perfect reception and call clarity be explained? Finally, is it possible that the recent merger between AT&T and Cingular Wireless has something to do with this? Perhaps AT&T dismantled their towers and used existing Cingular ones. The flaw in that theory, of course, is that with Cingular, I never had constant zero bars, or wildly fluctuating bars; just constant one bar.

In conclusion, the past 18 days have been very troublesome for me in terms of cellular service. I have been extremely patient, waiting for the problem to “work itself out,” but there have been no signs that it ever will. I have also tried to be open minded, to allow myself to believe that something has happened in my neighborhood that causes my cellular signal to degrade. I know that nothing in my home or immediate area has changed, and that I have not added any wires, appliances, or anything else, for that matter, to my home. Maybe my neighbors have added something. In any case, wireless telephone service should not have these problems. In Hong Kong, I can go into the basement of a mall, surrounded by metal, concrete, and earth, and still be able to make a crystal clear mobile phone call. The sad part is that both customer representatives stated that it was something I did that caused this problem. I got the impression that AT&T wants to provide a product that is just barely good enough, that it is willing to accept (and ignore) the complaints of a few customers, as long as more people continue to subscribe. I will be calling customer service again, and no matter what they tell me, I will continue to believe that it is the responsibility of a wireless provider to provide wireless service, regardless of where the customer is (reasonably, of course, such as inside my bedroom, and not under the ocean). I just hope I can continue to be as patient as I have been. Thank you for reading, and wish me luck!

Update – March 29, 2004

My Experiments with Case Modding

Introduction

Case modification is all the rage these days. Until only a couple of years ago, only the truly hardcore would endeavor in case modification; if not for bragging rights, then for added overclocking functionality. Before then, those who wanted to modify their cases did it themselves, and very rarely would you find case modification parts in mainstream stores. Nowadays, drop by a CompUSA store and you will find an aisle dedicated to modified computer cases, lighted fans, and other case modification accessories. So what drove case modification into the mainstream? One possible reason could be the increased desire for one to personalize his own computer, to separate it from everyone else’s. Another could be that people became tired of the plain old beige-colored box sitting on their desk and wanted something a bit more lively. These reasons, in addition to being able to look inside my computer, were my own reasons for experimenting with case modding.

Case Windows

If you ever want to catch my attention, wave a motherboard in my face, because I love looking and marveling at computer components and electronics. Thus, when I learned of the “case window”, I wanted one of my own. A case window is literally a window in the side of a computer case. It allows you to peer inside your computer and, like myself, marvel at the components inside. Of course, if you are a patron of LAN parties, it also allows you to show off all your latest top of the line components to your friends. Finally, since a case window offers a view into the case, one can add features like lighted fans, cold-cathode lighting, or neon lights that will project lights and colors out of the case, therefore adding a further touch of aestheticism.

Most case windows today come in two varieties: do-it-yourself and prefabricated (as shown above). The do-it-yourself version requires you to measure and cut a hole in the side of your case, apply a molding, and then insert a piece of plexiglass, glass, or clear plastic into the hole to be your window. Prefabricated is of course the type that is manufactured at the factory and is a feature of the case. The first method requires a bit of work, because you must use tools to cut the metal side-panel of your case. If you are not careful, you could end up damaging the panel or even cutting yourself. The second method is a little more costly because the window is pre-made and you have to buy a completely new case. There is also another method, a combination of the two, which is to send your panel to a company that will do the modification for you. Depending on how you ship and the company, this method could conceivably cost a bundle as well as take a while to complete. Because I lack the necessary tools as well as the necessary budget to modify my own side-panel, I decided to try my own version of a side window modification.

My own side window “modification” technically was not a modification at all, but rather a side-panel replacement. Instead of modifying my existing side-panel, I would replace it completely with a piece of glass. I had some initial difficulties with this modification because I lacked planning and did not have an understanding of the properties of glass. Ultimately, the mod was successful and I was able to learn a few lessons from it. Here, then, is the story of my experiment with a case window.

My Own Case Window

Having read about and seen so many examples of case windows online and at stores, I decided that I wanted one of my own. As mentioned before, I did not wish to spend a great deal of money, nor do the modification myself. Buying a new case with a case window was not feasible. Thinking deeply, I recalled that there was a discount glass store nearby, and I realized that I could purchase a custom cut piece of glass, fit it onto my case, and finally have my own case window with a minimal amount of money spent and without using power tools. I began to draft my plan.

Because the original metal panel of my case had an opening for a case fan (see below), I wanted my glass panel to have an opening for a case fan as well. Therefore, I did some measuring and calculating and came up with a plan (see below) to have the fan opening in the lower right corner of the panel, and use that opening as an intake for cooler air. Unfortunately, my plan was overambitious as I did not realize that drilling and cutting glass non-linearly requires a highly skilled and precise hand. When I brought my plans to the discount glass store, the manager informed me that they could not produce a piece of glass to my specifications. He suggested that I try another, more expensive, glass store nearby. Following his advice, I submitted my plans to the other store. The estimate shocked me. The price of producing a piece of glass to my exact specifications would be $95. With that amount, I could buy a new aluminum case with a side window, and not even need to make my own! Thus, I learned my first lesson: glass is not easily drilled or cut in a circle. So much for having a fan opening in my new glass panel.

Now, all I needed was a regular rectangular piece of glass, and the discount glass store happily provided me with one. The exact measurements of this piece of glass were 16 and 11/16 inches long, 15 and 9/16 inches wide, and 1/8 inch thick. After the craftsman spent less than ten minutes measuring, cutting, and polishing the piece of glass, I rushed home to fit it onto my case. A perfect fit! The only thing left to do was to find a way to mount the glass onto the case. Unfortunately, a means of mounting the glass was not part of my planning, and I would soon learn another lesson.

Broken Glass

Since I do some mild overclocking on my computer, my case is equipped with several case fans that draw in and exhaust air. Because I have more exhaust fans than intake fans, the air pressure causes the case to act like a vacuum cleaner. That is, any holes, openings, or vents in the case will suck air in. When I first mounted my new glass side panel, the case fans were running, and so the panel seemed to “stick” to the case without any additional adhesive. I was quite satisfied with the results and left the piece of glass “stuck” to my case so I could pat myself on the back for such a great idea. When I turned off the computer, however, the air pressure inside the case and in the room equalized, negating the vacuum effect and causing my brand new glass panel to crash onto my desk and shatter into several pieces. Lesson learned: never leave a piece of glass unattended!

I embarrassingly returned to the glass store to purchase another piece of glass. After hearing my story, the owner took pity on me and charged only $5. This time, the first thing I did was to mount the new panel with mounting tape. I lined the entire perimeter of the case with the tape, and then mounted the panel. To make a long story short, lining the entire perimeter was a mistake. The mounting tape was too strong, and I could no longer remove the glass panel by hand, and I had a cold cathode light on its way! It was time to make another mistake: attempt to pry off the piece of glass with a flat blade screwdriver. The second I applied a little pressure, the glass cracked. I returned once again to the glass store, and the manager concurred that glass is very sensitive to sharp, pointy metallic objects. Lesson #3, and another $5 lesson: glass and metal don’t mix.

Determined not to make the same mistake thrice, I thought about how I could mount the window but still be able to open and close it to access the innards of my case. I went to my local hardware store for ideas, and found a set of hinges that would work. I could mount the window on three hinges, use a small piece of mounting tape as a “lock,” and still be able to open and close my case for maintenance and upgrades. The hinges were also bronze colored, matching the fan grille of my power supply (see above). Perfect! Lastly, I purchased some black felt pads that I would cut into strips and use to cushion the glass from the metal and prevent any vibrations or damage (remember lesson #3).

Success

My new glass case window was finally nearing completion. I installed all the parts, and the window was now fully functional. I opened and closed it a few times, and then I turned on the cold cathode light. Simply beautiful! For less than $20 and without any tools, I achieved an effect similar to the ones you see at CompUSA. If not for my lack of planning, I would have completed the project in less time and with less money. Here is the theoretical cost breakdown:

Glass: $8
Hinges: $3.24
Felt: $5.40
Mounting Tape: $3.24
Total: $19.88

And you get to keep the remainder of the mounting tape, too!

Air Vents

Computers these days run hotter than ever before, and additional cooling and ventilation is always beneficial. A good way to add additional vents to your computer is to drill rows of holes in unused drive bay covers. To obtain neat, straight, and level rows (unlike my bottom-most 5.25″ cover), use a pencil and ruler to divide the length of the cover into equal parts, then repeat for the width of the cover, thereby creating a grid of intersecting lines. Drill holes at the intersections and then erase the pencil marks with an eraser, re-install the cover, and you will have added some additional airflow to your computer.

Air Ducting – A Failed Experiment

I had read about homemade air ducting as well as seen ducting used in retail computer systems, and thought I’d try it myself. The theory is that without ducting, hot air that is a byproduct of CPU cooling is re-circulated inside the case. If said air could be directed outside the case, then the air required to cool the CPU would be drawn from vents and intake fans, and not from re-circulated hot air. Therefore, the duct would have the requirement of fitting tightly onto both the CPU fan and the output, with no hot air escaping back into the case. In my case, the output would be the rear case fan outlet with no fan attached, because for one, I did not have another fan with the exact specifications of my CPU fan, and for two, because stacking fans doesn’t necessarily create more airflow. The material I used for the ducting was aluminum foil.

In order to fit aluminum foil onto the fan outlet, I needed something there for the foil to hold onto, since the outlet is a flat piece of metal with holes in it. My solution: removing the mechanical parts of an old power supply fan. In this case, any 80mm fan can be used, but since the fan will be taken apart, a cheap fan might be more appropriate. Once I had this piece, I proceeded to wrap aluminum foil around the “fan bracket” to form a duct, and then I screwed the bracket onto the outlet just as I would a case fan. Because the CPU fan is at a right angle to this outlet, I also had to partially cut out one side of the duct, so that when I curved the duct to fit onto the CPU fan, there would not be too much foil sticking out and touching the motherboard and possibly causing a short circuit. Finally, I curved the duct towards the CPU fan and crimped the foil around the edges to make it airtight. I had finished my new CPU air expulsion duct.

The results: increased CPU temperature and increased case temperature. Placing my hand at the duct outlet, I could feel that the air was hotter than anything I had ever felt coming out of a computer air vent. This meant that the duct was working as it should, as it was moving used CPU cooling air to the outside. So why the temperature increases? I have a few theories. First, computer cooling is not simply a matter of temperatures. Forced air cooling is dependent on the constant movement of air, and the duct reduced the amount of air moving through the case. Second, the duct concentrated warm air inside itself, air that normally would be distributed throughout the entire case (remember, air is always moving inside a case). Third, the duct was comprised of aluminum, a relatively efficient material for transferring heat (most heat sinks are made with aluminum). Because of the concentrated hot air, and because of the duct material being aluminum, the duct acted like a heater inside of the case, causing both CPU and case temperature to rise higher. That is my unproven theory, and although the duct failed to lower temperatures, I did learn a bit about computer cooling.

Spare Parts and Conclusion

If you have spare parts lying around, you might want to use them to modify your case. As mentioned before, I drilled holes in my drive covers to act as vents. Since I currently do not have any drives in my bottom two 5.25-inch drive bays, I mounted a spare fan with (what else?) mounting tape to blow air into the case while drawing air through the vents (above left). As for the fan part I ripped out from its bracket, I again used mounting tape to mount it on top of another CPU heat sink to blow air onto the sink (above right). It works quite well, and is quiet to boot.

Well, there you have it. My experiments with case modding. I hope you found these pages entertaining, informative, and useful, and were able to gain some inspiration for some case modifications of your own. Have fun, and thank you for reading!

Bonus – More Pictures!

Site Update 3-14-04

I’ve finished my first article in two years, My Experiments with Case Modding. From now on, I will no longer update old articles to include new ones in the “Site Navigation” panel on the left. It’s just too much work having to update each individual file, which is why I am going to try and learn cascading style sheets so that I can “separate my style from my content.” Once I figure it out, then I will resume having a site navigation bar that works. Wish me luck!

Site Update 3-9-04

It has been almost two years since I last updated this site. To those of you who sent me emails with comments and suggestions, I want to say “thank you”. I didn’t really expect anyone to view my site, let alone find it useful. Anyhow, to kick things off again, I’m starting with something simple: My computer hardware wishlist! =)