Hello? Is this thing on?

I recently starting using a cable modem. I ran into a serious annoyance. I thought it had crashed and spent about 15 minutes checking cables and power cords and turning on my TV to check regular cable, rebooting my computer, all to no avail.

So I unplugged the modem, plugged it back in again. Two lights came on: the Power and PC Link lights.

After all this struggling, I decided to manually turn the power button on and off. So I did so, but then I noticed the Activity light blink for a second. Suspicious, I pushed it once, and lights started blinking faster. So I tried the Internet connection again and it worked.

Sure enough, the modem was "off" with two green lights on, including the POWER LIGHT. What kind of interface idiocy is that?

Pictures make this very clear:

Contrary to what you might think, this modem is "off". Although the power light is lit, the modem is really 'off'

Now, this modem is on. This modem is on.  You can't see the Activity link blinking

The lights do blink a lot when it's on, but that didn't help. I assumed the lights weren't blinking because something was wrong with my cable or computer. When you first plug in the power cord, the modem blinks in a subtly different way as it boots up, and it's not available then, either.

How is lighting the power light when the modem is "off" sensical? Why is the power light glowing for both "on" and "off" states? That's nonsensical.

So what precipitated the whole thing? Well, my theory is that it had to do with the sock. See, I find those blinking lights annoying and covered them with a black sock.

On a slow modem, I cared about activity because I had to. On a fast cable modem, I don't want to. I want it always on, till further notice. I must have accidentally pushed the power button through the sock.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, September 27, 2002 (Link)


Posted by Anthony Mills Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 09:37 AM

Uh, I agree that if the power's off, no activity lights should be on, but it looks to me like the power light /is/ off in the "off" picture. Maybe you're getting a little reflected light from the LED next to it?

Posted by Chad Lundgren Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 04:44 PM

The usability plot thickens. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw that the Power light does indeed appear to be out in the picture.

So what happened? Assuming the modem does the same thing each time, when you first plug the thing in, the Power and PC Link lights both blink. This is a time period in which those 2 lights are on, and the modem cannot be used. Then all kinds of lights blink as the thing boots up.

Then, later on, only the cable and PC Link lights are on when the power is "off." But there are still only 2 lights on. That was not different enough for me to have noticed that the lights had moved over one. I was doing all sorts of stuff on the computer related to web browsers and networking and what not and I glanced over and saw that two lights were still on.

I think a different boot up sequence would help, as would a different color for the "off" position on the power button.

Anyone saying "But why didn't you just read?" doesn't get usability. Some usability people test interfaces with all the options done in fake "Lorem ipsum" style texts to see how people behave when they can't go on the meaning, just the placement.

Likewise, the meaning of this should be made clear that someone who can't or didn't read could see the status at a glance, without having to sort out which blinking light is which. So to speak.