I’ve lost confidence in @BTCare

BTCare on Twitter... although I'm not so sure now that they do

UPDATE 1: About 20 minutes after posting this I got a phone call from @BTCare. I have an engineer booked to visit on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE 2: Engineer visited on Wednesday 18 February and found literally thousands of faults on the line. He cleared these but broadband is still dropping out randomly. He wondered if this was an issue with Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN).

@BTCare are sending out another Openreach engineer on Monday morning. They have at least phoned me now on the day they said they would, even if it did require me to poke them via Twitter to remind them. Confidence in them is growing a little, which is a relief.

See post Broadband woes / continued.

UPDATE 3: Engineer booked out for another visit on Monday 24 February between 08:00–13:00. It’s currently 14:00 and no sign or word from him. Although @BTCare have just kindly tweeted to ask how the appointment went… except that he’s not been.

UPDATE 4: Engineer booked for Saturday 1 March.

UPDATE 5: Engineer booked for Monday 10 March. It’s FINALLY FIXED!


The last few weeks have been the most frustrating I’ve ever experienced with BT’s customer support channel on Twitter, what I’m experiencing as an ever-more ironically named @BTCare.

In fact, I might go as far as saying that this has been my worst experience of customer service full-stop.

For the last few years I have enthused with anyone who will listen about how excellent I’ve found @BTCare to be. With a simple tweet or two I’ve found them to be engaged, interested, and conscientious; I’ve felt cared for, I’ve felt that they owned the problem and they haven’t stopped until it was resolved.

I have found myself in training sessions at work about world-class customer service raving about I see @BTCare as the paradigm of the level of support and professionalism that I would like to offer our clients.

As a web professional people regularly ask for my advice on internet service providers, and I have always recommended BT on the strength of their excellent support.

But after these last three months I can’t do that any more. I now find myself, three months into this current issue with our broadband connection randomly dropping out, and increasingly getting worse, feeling not only disgruntled but wondering if they are now purposefully ignoring me or at worst lying to me.

Having been such an advocate for what was a first rate customer service experience, I am now feeling disappointed and angry.

All I am asking for is the service that a) I’ve had, and b) that I’m paying for.

So BT tell me, what has changed? Why have I found the last few months to be the most excruciatingly frustrating experience I’ve ever had from any company’s customer service team? Why have I found myself contacting you again and again asking for feedback? Why have you replied to me time and again saying that you’ll be in touch with me soon, that you’ll phone me shortly, that you’ll a colleague “will be in touch with [me] today”.

Why am I still waiting?!

Timeline

You said that you’d be in touch on Wednesday.

I was in, but I’d just got back from the hospital and was in a lot of pain and couldn’t get to the phone in time and my phone was set to silent/vibrate. I tweeted back immediately saying that I was available…

No reply. Nor the next day. So I contacted you again:

No call.

So I contacted them again yesterday and was told:

There was then a flurry of activity, none of which was useful. I felt like I was repeating myself. I’d already explained what was going on in one of the many emails that I’d written.

But I don’t know how these things work at their end, perhaps they didn’t have access to the information that I’d sent. There also seemed to be a misunderstanding that the issue was simply a drop in WiFi connection rather than the connection to the whole hub dropping out (the blue light turns to a flashing orange light).

Then late last night, while the connection was dropping out every other minute I was asked to send another email.

I finally found a few minutes where the connection stayed up for long enough to write a long, detailed explanation of what is going on.

The issue: my broadband connection keeps dropping — orange light flashes… connects (blue)… drops… repeat. Not just WiFi – the lot. My main PC is connected via LAN cable to the hub via a powerline. My phone and tablet are connected with WiFi (2.4 GHz, channel 6). I have changed the channel… no effect: still drops out.

Here’s a record I’ve kept from the HomeHub 4 logs:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1778315/broadband-outages.txt

Connection during the day is solid, from about 08:00–23:00. Today it started dropping every few moments after 21:00.

We had an engineer visit in mid-December. He tested everything and said that our internal wiring (from master to one extension socket) was fine. He recommended unplugging everything and reconnecting in case the issue was static on the line. I’ve done that… it hasn’t fixed things.

He suggested that if it continue then the issue is likely to be the Home Hub 3 we had. This has now been replaced with a Home Hub 4. The connection was absolutely fine for a couple of weeks, and was faster than the HH3 but now it has started dropping out again and only in the evenings.

We have not changed anything in the house. Same equipment is on and switched on. The only change is the Home Hub and filter, swapped for the one that arrived with the Home Hub 4. But like I said it worked for a few weeks.

I now have the [brand new] Home Hub 4 plugged into [a brand new microfilter plugged into] the master socket in our hallway. I’ve also done a factory reset on the hub.

This strikes me as being an issue that is external to our property.

I got this reply this morning:

It is now 17:22, I have stayed in all day, on Sundays they close at 18:00 and so far no call despite an assurance 9 hours ago that you would be in touch.

So, please tell me BT… what has happened? Please turn around this experience for me. Please make me believe that you can offer world-class customer service again.

But most of all: please fix our broadband connection.

Fixing an ‘Initialization of SteelSeries Engine failed’ error

Initialization of SteelSeries Engine failed. Please reinstall Engine and try again.

Yesterday morning when I booted up my PC I was greeted with this error message:

Initialization of SteelSeries Engine failed.
Please reinstall Engine and try again.

Not again! I thought. I’d experienced this before and had needed to get help from SteelSeries tech support to resolve it. I suspected that it had been caused by a recent Windows 8 update, but I don’t know for sure.

Here is how I resolved it:

  1. Clear temp files
    In Windows Explorer I typed %temp% into the address bar and pressed Enter. This is a shortcut to C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Local\Temp. I selected all files and deleted them. (A few files are still in use so just skip past these.)
  2. Close SSEngine.exe process
    The next step is to make sure the SteelSeries Engine process isn’t still running. Ctrl+Shift+Esc brings up the Task Manager. If the SSEngine.exe process is still running (under the Processes tab) then close it.
  3. Uninstall
    In Control Panel > Programs and Features uninstall the SteelSeries Engine application.
  4. Clear AppData\Roaming\SteelSeries
    In Windows Explorer, in the address bar, type %appdata%. This is a shortcut for C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming. Locate the directory called SteelSeries and delete it.
  5. Clear AppData\Local\SteelSeries_ApS
    Do the same at C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Local. The directory there for me is called SteelSeries_ApS. Delete it.
  6. Unplug mouse
    Unplug the mouse from its USB port. Wait 10 seconds then plug it back in.
  7. Download drivers
    Now download fresh drivers from SteelSeries support. Do not rely on previously-downloaded drivers.
  8. Install as administrator
    Right click the installer and select ‘Run as administrator’, then follow the on-screen instructions and install the drivers.
  9. Reboot
    You should now find that your computer reboots without any initialization error message.

As well as reinstalling the Engine drivers I also took the opportunity to upgrade the mouse’s firmware.

It was then just a case of recreating my custom profile to make my mouse behave as much like a Microsoft Intellimouse Optical as possible (left-hand side buttons: back; right-hand side buttons: forward), as well as setting two sensor speeds (red 1600 dcpi for me, blue 800 dcpi for the children).

It worked.

Upgrading my PC’s PSU

My old PSU sitting on my desk, post-operation.
My old PSU sitting on my desk, post-operation, alongside Reuben’s toolkit.

Early on Sunday morning I switch on my PC and nothing happened. Nothing. Not a sound. Not a spark. Nothing. All a bit worrying really given that I wanted to get some prayers off my hard drive for use in the 08:00 service that morning.

Troubleshooting

I tried not to panic and think about it logically. What could the problem be? Okay, the power comes into the power supply unit which then feeds the motherboard and the various components (DVD, hard drives, graphics card, soundcard, USB devices, etc.) But the PSU is in standby mode until it’s supplied with a load which only happens when I push the on/off switch. There are my first two candidates: PSU and switch. And it it’s not them then I guess it could be the motherboard?

I took a look at the switch. It looked and sounded fairly solid. I then hunted down another power cable and swapped that out. Maybe the fuse had gone, I reasoned. And remarkably, my PC started (after two or three failed attempts). That immediately ruled out a dodgy motherboard.

It was looking more and more likely that the PSU was the source of the problem.

Review

So I searched online for the make and model of my then-current PSU: EZCOOL ATX-600JSP and was astonished to read a review on Amazon UK which described something very close to the problems that I had been experiencing for the last couple of years.

For the last couple of years I’ve had a intermittent issues whereby I’d switch on the PC and it would start only to switch itself off a few seconds into the boot sequence. I’d put it down to my not pressing the button hard enough, or even thinking that perhaps there was a problem with the button itself.

Here is what Bukkithead said on Amazon:

For the love of all things holy, don’t buy this power supply. Hamsters on running wheels are a more reliable source of power than this.

Fortunately, I didn’t buy this. I borrowed it from a friend as my old PSU was only 450W and couldn’t handle my new NVIDIA 8800 GTX graphics card.
For about a month, everything was fine. Admittedly sometimes the computer wouldn’t turn on, but it did after pressing the button again and I attributed that to the case rather than the PSU.
However, after this time of false happiness, I was using my computer one day and the power just died. I was surprised but assumed it was a power surge or something similar. Then after a while it would cut out as the computer was turning on or within the first few minutes of running. It was fairly annoying having to have two or three attempts to turn my computer on, and this happened more often than not.
After getting used to this for another couple of weeks, the thing really started to die, a few days ago it turned itself off twenty times, accompanied by a worrying fizzing sound. I tried switching power cables but this made no difference whatsoever. Now it’s more useful as a doorstop and I look forward to destroying the damn thing.
In the last few days I have bought and installed a new Corsair HX series PSU, which never turns off, drastically improved the performance of my computer and is actually silent, unlike this one which claims to be but is far from it. An added bonus is that the inside of my computer no longer looks like a jungle thanks to the modular cabling. The Corsair is highly recommended and is well worth the money, albeit a fairly large sum.
Cheap things are cheap for a reason. Please save yourself the trouble.

New PSU

I ordered a new PSU, the Corsair GS800 80 Plus Bronze Certified Power Supply 2013 Edition which arrived this afternoon.

Reuben helped me to fit it; what a sweetie! You can see from the photo above that he brought his own toolkit to my desk to help.

The operation was pretty straightforward:

  1. Unplug everything from the back (and front) of my PC.
  2. Remove the two side covers.
  3. With anti-static wristband on, carefully remove the existing power connectors: the motherboard had two (24-pin and 4-pin), graphics card (6-pin), soundcard breakout box and floppy drive (small 4-pin), DVD drives (molex 4-pin), SATA hard drives (SATA connectors).
  4. Unscrew and remove the old PSU.
  5. Fit new PSU.
  6. Carefully attach the new cables.
  7. The Corsair website was useful in discovering that I had to split the new 8-pin connector marked “CPU” so that it could fit the 4-pin ATX 12V socket on the motherboard.
  8. Screw the PC sides back on.
  9. Connect the cables again,
  10. Switch on… and pray that it works.

It did! My PC is now disconcertingly quiet. It starts up with a whirring flurry of noise before almost immediately dropping down to an almost inaudible whisper. So quiet was it the first couple of times that I thought my PC had switched itself off. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the screen flicker into life and I watched the power-on startup test (POST) begin.

Next…

Having recently upgraded my RAM too—doubling it from 4GB to 8GB—which involved some first class customer service from Crucial, my PC is slowly getting a new lease of life. Not had for a machine that I bought about five or six years ago:

  • Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard
  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU
  • Crucial 8GB DDR2-667 RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB graphics card

Next up, I want to upgrade the graphics card from an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT (still a remarkably capable graphics card) to something more powerful. I’ll be sure to report back.

Our Citroën Grand C4 Picasso needed a software upgrade

Citroën Grand C4 Picasso (with optional twin roof accessory)

On Friday morning, as I was driving the 10 miles’ route to work, our 56-reg Citroën Grand C4 Picasso, had what I can only describe as the car equivalent of a Windows Blue Screen of Death. I use that analogy advisedly because what seems to have fixed the issue was a software upgrade.

Technical support for cars

So there I was driving along, listening to a spot of Megadeth on the CD player, when the console beeped, just about every warning light flashed on, the engine cut out and I was presented with an array of messages on the display while I was trying to guide the car to a gentle halt by the side of the road.

Take your pick at the most important:

  • Risk of ice
  • Handbrake fault
  • Anti-pollution fault
  • Check oil level
  • Service

There may have been others but those were the most memorable ones. Thankfully the hazard lights worked so I punch at the button to get those crazy orange flashers working.

Unfortunately the hand brake wasn’t working. Because Citroën in their wisdom don’t provide a standard pull-on-a-lever-that-pulls-a-wire-that-pulls-on-the-brakes. No, they have a button on the dashboard.

And this button on the dashboard did nothing when I stabbed at it, with my slightly shaking, slightly panicking hand.

What do I do now? What do I do? What do I do?

Don’t panic! Don’t panic!

Deep breath.

What’s the first rule of technical support? I switched it off and switched it back on again.

It started! The hand brake worked! I pulled away. And broke down again about half a mile further up the road.

Jane phoned the garage in Cupar and booked it in for Monday morning.

Break down again

We broke down again the following day—twice—en route to taking the boys to choose a Christmas tree.

This time we pulled into a petrol station forecourt and, remembering the fault message about oil (that appeared only once), I checked the oil, using a baby wipe to clean the dip stick.

I’m really not very good at remembering to check the oil. I put a litre in. It was Castrol EDGE 0W30 (FST) ACEA C2, C3, which I was assured by a leaflet in our car manual was the right thing to pour into the engine. A snip at £16.38 per litre.

The car didn’t break down again, but the warning light remained on.

As good as new

I got a phone call this morning from the garage. They were confident that they had fixed the problem. The car required a software upgrade. It was probably running Vista.

Here’s what they did:

  • Investigate anti pollution light on and car cutting out
  • Checked wiring, terminals, connectors, secured all
  • Carried out software update
  • Contacted Citroën deleted all errors
  • Carried out road test all okay
  • Rechecked on computer okay
  • Customer to run vehicle

Labour and parts: £195.00
Surcharge: £4.68
VAT @ 20%: £39.94
TOTAL: £239.62

I drove it home in this evening’s gales and despite being buffeted about the engine certainly felt much smoother and more responsive.

Hoorah!

Audio playing too fast

Here’s a weird thing. Ever since installing my new webcam (Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 with QuickCam v11.7 software) and after using it for a while, mostly with Seesmic my MP3s play at about 3x or 4x normal speed.  They should like a chipmunk band!

I’m still trying to work out what the issue is.  Could it be to do with the way that Adobe Flash Player is interacting with the webcam and audio input/output?

Strangely, normal service resumed as soon as I’d closed the Seesmic tab in Firefox and closed down Twhirl (Twitter client).

I’m also not sure what software/drivers I should have installed.  It came with QuickCam v11.7 but the download version (for XP) from the Logitech website is QuickCam v11.5.  Hmmm…

Update, pt.1

Saturday 21 June

I’ve just uninstalled Adobe Flash Player and reinstalled it.  Everything appears to be working as expected now, which is promising.  That may have been the issue … I’ll keep an eye on it.

Update, pt.2

Friday 27 June

The problem is still continuing, although not as much as previously.  It happened again this morning when I fired up WinAmp.  However, I’ve discoverd that if I exit from Last.fm that fixes the problem.  Not sure what’s going on.  Seems to have happened around the time when I upgraded to Firefox 3 and installed the Logitech webcam.

Investigations continue …

Update, pt.3

Wednesday 02 July

Having lived with this issue over the last couple of weeks, it certainly looks as though the main culprits are Flash player in Firefox 3.0 and Last.fm.  The audio in WinAmp just went ‘chipmunk’ again this morning and wasn’t resolved until I did the following:

  1. Stop WinAmp playing (not exit, just stop)
  2. Exit Last.fm for Windows 1.5.1.29527
  3. Start WinAmp playing again

Music returned to its normal tempo.  Very odd, rather annoying.

Update, pt.4

Monday 28 July

I’ve now not experienced the chipmunk audio effect for nearly two weeks now.  I found somewhere on the Adobe website that in order to run the Flash uninstaller fully it required a /clean switch:

  1. Download the Uninstaller
  2. Open the Windows Command Prompt ( Run > cmd ).
  3. Navigate to the directory where the uninstaller was downloaded.
  4. Run “Uninstall Adobe Flash Player.exe /clean.”

After that I reinstalled Adobe Flash Player 9.0.124.0 and all has been well again ever since.