Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CLEAR Internet

I really-really-really wanted to fire AT&T on Sunday after their automated troubleshooting system told me there was no problem and hung up in my ear.

So, I went to and gave them my credit card number.  (Big mistake.)

They have a cute application that will take the MAC address of your laptop's wireless modem and tell you whether it will do WiMAX.  I typed mine in and it said, "Yea, verily, you can do WiMAX."  Unhappily, it lied to me.  More on that in a moment.

In the meantime, my CLEAR home modem came today.  Oh, boy!  I'll set that sucker up and fire AT&T!  Revenge is nigh.  (Wrong again, dog breath!)

Before decomposing my whole home network, I connected the CLEAR modem to a ThinkPad and fired it up.  Two bars on the signal strength scale; only one bar if I stand close by.  {Sigh.} But maybe it will be OK... I'll run the Speakeasy Speed Test and See What Happens (tm);.  Maybe it'll be OK.

Too bad... you can't run anything on CLEAR without accepting their on line agreement.  They present the agreement in a scrolling text box that's about five lines high, but they do provide a link to a printable version.  If you are signing up with CLEAR, print it!  And read it!  You really need to read this. Among other things, you agree to binding arbitration.  You might also be agreeing to termination fees, too.  The text of the agreement is ambiguous.  Since it was written by lawyers, I have to believe that was purposeful. {Sigh}  Since it was written by CLEAR's lawyers, I have to believe it is to CLEAR's advantage.  And so, I worry about it.

The binding arbitration clause means you give up your right to sue and your right to trial by jury.  If I were pretty sure CLEAR was going to work, and/or I were pretty sure I knew what my financial exposure was, that would be OK.  However, you have to accept the onerous click-wrap agreement before you can test, and that is not OK.  Don't do it!

I mucked around with the modem's Web interface before I fired CLEAR.  You can turn DHCP off, but I couldn't figure out how to set the "inside" address for the modem.  (The outside address is determined by CLEAR.)  Not being able to set the inside address is a problem if you have a non-trivial home network, as I do.

CLEAR doesn't have an email support option.  (Don't want a written record?)  The on-line chat support was responsive (time-wise) but not helpful.  ("You have to accept the agreement before you can use the service."  Well, I knew that!  That's the crux of the problem.)  They did give me a toll-free number to cancel service, and that appears to have worked.  They're supposed to be sending me a return label for the modem.  We sh'll see.

And then there's that cute app that determines whether one's laptop speaks WiMAX.  As I mentioned earlier, it lies.  So, I found out about the lie after I ordered (for $$$) a suitable WiMAX modem for my laptop.  It hasn't arrived yet, and I won't be able to use it when it does.  Too bad for me.  I should have kept my pants on and tested CLEAR before I ordered the modem for the laptop.  (Not from CLEAR.)  Oh, well.  One lives and learns   If one is lucky.

Bottom line: CLEAR has an onerous contract to which you'd be a fool to agree.  Their lawyers think we're fools.  Time to prove them wrong.  Don't buy anything from these turkeys!  You cannot tell (because the document is ambiguous) what you're agreeing to, and you have agreed to binding arbitration.  Don't do it!

On December 12, 2009...
Clear did send a return shipping label, and they sent it promptly.  They went up a couple of notches in my estimation because of that.  Unhappily, the increased estimation was temporary.

It took a couple of weeks before they posted a credit to my credit card account.  I shouldn't have been surprised when they held back $25.00.  In other words, my "refund" was only a partial refund.

I filed a dispute with my credit card company.  Still waiting to see how that turns out, but the bottom line remains, you can't believe what CLEAR tells you.

On December 16, 2009...
I disputed Clear's hold-back and my credit card company agreed with me.  (I've been their customer for 25 years and only disputed one other charge.  YMMV.)

Instead of challenging the dispute, Clear just charged me another $25 on a new charge.  Turkeys!

And then they did it again!  As of this morning, I was $50 in the hole.

I'll dispute those and eventually get my money back.  What this means to you, dear readers, is that it is not safe to give Clear a credit card number because they have shown they will make unauthorized charges to your account.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Windows 7 on a ThinkPad

I'm going to be Mister Never Had Vista, and I think I'm not going to be alone!

Now that Windows 7 is officially available, I decided I'd better start learning something about it.  I have an IBM ThinkPad T-43 with one gig of memory and a tiny 30G hard disk.  I decided to put Windows 7 Professional on it to See What Happens (tm).

I was using a "generic" Windows 7 install, and not one customized for the ThinkPad, and that made me worry that things like the eraserhead pointing stick might not work.  However, the installation worked like a champ and all was well at the end.  Apparently Lenovo (or IBM) provided Microsoft with at least a basic driver kit.  Good.

I downloaded ThinkVantage System Update (TVSU).  It took several iterations before I had everything up to date.  Apparently TVSU understands prerequisites, but makes one iterate over them.  That doesn't seem too bad as it only has to happen once.  TVSU for Windows 7 can be downloaded here.

The only real problem I had is that TVSU tried to install an unsupported External Controller flash on my 1871-type T-43.  I had to borrow a USB floppy and do a flash from diskette to get over that.  Happily, it didn't brick my T-43.

I wish I had not installed ThinkVantage Access Connections. Windows 7 does a lot of what one needed Access Connections for.  That's OK, too, because installing Windows 7 was an experiment.  I intend to blow the installation away and start over in a month or so.  (And yes, I did keep good notes.)

In summary, Windows 7 works even on older Thinkpads, and, with enough updates, you will get the drivers you need.  (But please don't try this with a mission-critical machine, OK?)

Friday, July 10, 2009

ThinkVantage Access Connections

I like my ThinkPad and I appreciate the flexibility I get from managing network connectivity using ThinkVantage Access Connections. However, the ThinkPad got into a state where any change to a wired or WAN Miniport profile caused the Ethernet connection to fail with error "DHCP server not responding." Wireless connectivity continued to work, although it took me a long time to figure that out.

Similarly, any change to the Access Connections (like trying to upgrade to the current version) caused wired connectivity to fail.

For a long while, the only solution I found was to revert changes using Windows system restore. Last weekend I decided I had had enough, and spent the time to out-stubborn the problem.

It turns out that deleting and re-adding the Ethernet NIC using Windows Device Manager and Add New Hardware did the trick. I could now change profiles, upgrade software, etc. without breaking my wired connection. Good!

However, deleting and re-adding the NIC broke all my WAN Miniport connections. VPN access and even dial-up no longer worked. Happily for me, "harrisb" had posted a solution for this one on a Lenovo forum: It's one I would never have figured out on my own!

So, I am back to being a happy ThinkPad camper.


I'm Bob Brown and I've spent thirty years managing technology and another dozen (with some overlap) teaching about it at the university level. I'm still teaching and I do a bit of consulting.

In the process, I frequently prove that experience is what you get when you're expecting something else.

To help others share those hard-won experiences, one hopes with less labor and frustration, I want to write about them, sharing answers with others who may face the same problems. We shall see how I do.