Infinite Musings

The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it. Edward R. Murrow

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Back to Square One

And so it has come to pass: what goes around comes around and despite my fleeting moment of glory I find myself right back at square one. My day would be so empty without one of the Sympatico technicians to talk to. Fortunately, today just when I was wondering how bad the withdrawal might be I discovered the fates were kind. I still had occasion to call 310-SURF. I have yet to memorize my home telephone number but like a lovesick teenager I have Raji and Said and Brian’s number imprinted on my heart. What else could possibly go wrong you ask? Well I ask myself that same question each morning as I stumble out of bed and I don’t usually have to wait too long for the answer. Today it was the DSL signal. But all my previous calls to 310-SURF have not been in vain. I have learned the basic troubleshooting steps; turn off the modem; unplug the cables, reboot – hopefully we could skip those. As I dialed the oh too familiar number I could barely contain my anticipation; who would it be tonight? It was Brian who got the short straw. But Brian hasn’t been through the worst of it with me as poor Raji has and he obviously took his happy pill today. His cheerfulness was disconcerting. I hesitated to tell him my dark secret that the exorcist had taken up residence in my computer and in exorcising him I think he escaped into the phone line. But just as a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet so too the exorcist in the phone line by any other name still means no DSL signal. Brian pulled out all of his tricks from his bag but none could match the power of you know who. He had to confer with a higher authority. And in case you didn’t know; the higher the authority the longer you get to wait on hold. Brian had obviously gone to the highest authority. And when he finally got back to me his cheerfulness, if anything, was increased. “Give us 72 hours”, he said. “A technician needs to check the phone line.” I didn’t want to spoil his mood by asking him what the other three technicians that had already come to the house had done. “If you don’t hear from us by Thursday, feel free to call back. Thank you for choosing Sympatico and have a nice evening.” Well it’s a fine thing I don’t really have too much work piled up these days. What’s 72 hours? As I settle in to my static, hard copy digital readings for this week I cannot help but be overwhelmed by the irony of it all. These articles deal with cutting edge digital technology while I find myself on the wrong side of the digital divide. Bots, APIs, TDM, NGD… Well I now have my own little acronym: JGMACAICTW (just give me a computer and internet connection that work)! That will at least allow me to leave the starting gate.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Exorcism

Just when I was reveling in my new found connectivity disaster struck. Sympatico, “X”s and all, was still functioning fine. I’d moved on to bigger and better problems. My Internet Explorer no longer worked. $%@#$#$%#!!!!! The Exorcist seemed to be alive and well and living in my computer. I tried everything I could to resolve the problem before calling the dreaded Sympatico helpline 310-Surf. And if I dread calling 310-Surf I can only imagine the horror on the other end when they see my number come up, yet again. I’m sure my call is left on hold while the technicians pick straws to determine who the unlucky one is that will have to deal with me. You see I already know most of the technicians by name and they certainly know me; we’ve spent hours together on the phone. All, alas, in this latest chapter to no avail. Final verdict: not our problem go bug Microsoft. This had become so outrageous that the only thing one could do is laugh and laugh I would have if I wasn’t so frustrated and deflated and behind. But I suspected there was a lesson in this somewhere and it took me a little while to find the "silver lining". I certainly didn't relish reclaiming my chair in Weldon library, especially given the drop in temperature.

I found inspiration in one of the digital history readings--an interview with Lawrence Lessing--in which he reflects on the work being done in Brazil to build technology self-sufficieny. Musing on my sad, stuck, dependent state I wondered could I possibly be further removed from technology self-sufficiency? Realising I had "nothing to lose but my chains" I experienced a surge of revolutionary consciousness. I was determined to take control rather than be controlled. I would perform an exorcism on my computer. With my new-found revolutionary zeal I was not deterred by the fact that I only dimly knew what I was doing. Six long hours and four dogged "full restore" tries later unbelievably (at least to me!) some measure of sucess. The problem it appears was incompatibility between Internet Explorer, the pre-installed McAfee and my anti-virus program PC-cilin. Humming Tom Petty's "Don't come around here no more" I immediately replaced Internet Explorer with Firefox and cobbled together parts of the intransigent McAfee and tenacious PC-cillin. I am now reconnected but have no idea what level of virus protection I currently have (or don't). The silver lining? From frustration and dependency a new sense of empowerment. It's not impossible to teach an old dog (and may I be clear that I mean that about myself in the figurative and not literal sense) a new trick afterall. And this is only the beginning.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Internet "X" - The Devil is in the Details

For a while there it seemed this day would never come. It seemed like a simple thing getting a telephone connection and setting up the Internet. I'd moved to London after all not Lagos. Simple, oh no. But one learns valuable lessons along the way and gets to meet new and interesting people. Bell technicians are an especially colourful lot while the Sympatico technical cadre seem to have been deprogrammed of any sense of humour. Every cloud has a silver lining, I always say. Unfortunately, lately, the silver lining seems to have pooled under my eyes appearing in most light as unsightly dark circles trying to keep up with readings, labs, blogging (we won't dwell on my failures in that department), teaching, marking, accessing the Digital Repository and the Wiki, trying to understand how a linotype works without Internet access at home. I've spent hours upon hours in Weldon Library where climate control seems to be determined on the weather outside: If it's cold outside it better be colder in the library. There are only so many hours one can spend, teeth chattering, in that lofty building before the law of diminishing returns sets in. I could probably have purchased two new printers for all the money I've deposited in the one-armed bandit that issues copy cards so that I could read at home when I couldn't bear a single moment more in the Library. But today, an almost balmy November day in London, while the sun shone gloriously, Said (Sympatico technican extraordinaire) and I finally crossed my Rubicon. Intermittant phone line: Problem fixed. "Multiple gateways": ultimately disabled. All systems go but still no lift-off. In the end, I can scarcely believe what was keeping me separated from the 21st century: a simple "x" or should I say "X"? If God is in the details let me assure you that the Devil too is into details. Dear Sympatico, when issuing case sensitive access passwords please ensure that uppercase letters are clearly distinguishable from lower case letters most especially the "x"s!

Being on-line for just 24 hours my life is transformed. But just how and when did I, the non cell phone owner and pre-digital age relic, become so dependent on the Internet? This is what surprises me most of all. But doing the digital history readings this week online was illuminating. Being able to follow the links, which is not possible in hard copy, make me realise how much more dynamic information is available in the digital versions of the readings. The hard copy, while still easier to read, is static. The author stands alone and his/her citations and linkages to a broader community are dead words on a page. In the digital version a world of context is embedded and only a click away. Likewise, the class wiki which up until now I've had to print-out or read fleetingly in the library and to which up I haven't been able to contribute to significantly. What an incredible way to communicate and aggregate queries and understanding at a group level. I suppose it was the absence of easy access that makes me more fully comprehend my new-found Internet dependence. I feel as I've been trotting by in a house and carriage while some of my classmates zoom by in sports cars. I feel so behind that my tail is longer than Amazon's "long tail". But rather than despair; which is not to say that I haven't felt at the point of despair more than once in the last few weeks, I'll trade in the horse and buggy for a Model T and try to catch up.