Tuesday, May 22, 2007

High Speed Hiatus -- A Retro Reflection

For the last couple of days, my high speed internet connection at home has been on the fritz. I have made the calls. It is being looked into, but as yet there is no answer as to the cause of the problem, or when it will be fixed. Thus, I am forced to use old fashioned dial-up.

Actually, being without a high speed connection is quite an eye opener. I had forgotten how long things used to take at 45.2 Kbps. Of course, part of the problem may also be that these days web pages are getting 'heavier' all the time. By heavier, I mean that they include more and more code, especially the ever evil JavaScript, to make them have more cool features. This is all well and good with a high speed connection, but makes things incredibly slow via dial up.

It is also interesting how many commonly visited sites become totally useless. For instance, although it is probably possible to watch a video clip from YouTube, it would take an eternity to actually download it. Another program I use quite a bit, Skype also barely works at all. This is a particular pain at the moment, as I am collaborating on research and writing with people overseas. Given the differences in time, not being able to chat via Skype from home is a major problem. Hopefully, the high speed gnomes will be fixing things soon.

Actually, on reflection, there are some ways in which I should not really complain about a good 45 Kbps dial up connection. Back in the day, when I was in grad school, I was very happy with a 2400 Kbps connection. Indeed, even with such a narrow data stream, it was still possible to do some quite amazing things and get a good deal of work done.

Back then, I had an especially horrible computer, an IBM XT. This machine had a 4.77MHz processor and a low density floppy disk. It ran DOS 3.2! Unfortunately, the low density disk made it difficult to load software onto the machine. Most useful programs, like Word 4.0 for DOS, were too large to fit onto a single disk. The solution? Using various nifty utilities, like Pkzip and Uuencode, it was possible to compress the software and break it into little files. It was then possible to upload it to a workstation (a Sparc 2, running SunOS 4.0.1, if I recall correctly). One could then download it (overnight!) onto the hard drive of the XT. After putting the parts of the program back together and uncompressing it, one could get the programs to run just fine. Indeed, this is how I got the word processor onto the machine. This was the word processor with which I typed most of the text of my dissertation. I used a similar technique in reverse to get the files off the hard drive and onto a better computer for final formatting and adding tables, equations, figures and all that sort of thing.

I am proud to say, that I still own that old XT and it still runs. It is an amazing bit of equipment. One time, I succeeded in dropping it down an entire flight of stairs. The damage? A dent in the stairs! The machine still run just fine. I guess that is why they called such machines 'Blue Metal'. I am certain that my current laptop would not survive such abuse so well.

To return to the topic of the current connection issue, I am not entirely cut off. I still have an excellent connection in the office, but this is not always ideal. Also, when I am at the office, I am usually working. In fact, just yesterday I sent off a proposal. It is also the case that I feel a little guilty blogging from the office. Even though the semester is over, there is still plenty of research and writing that needs to get done. Thus, the upshot of all this is that posts here may become a little less frequent, until the connection issue is sorted out. However, fear not, this blog is not going away, but it may just slow up a little.

The CP

2 Comments:

Blogger Tenured Radical said...

Isn't it strange that the faster computers get, the more our impatience grows when things move slowly? I now use a Mac (which I adore) and when I occasionally go back to my old PC to pull a file off that I need I am nearly beside myself waiting for it to boot up.

All of this has led me to think that, although I really want the finest cell phone available, I won;t get it if it comes with the possibility of doing email. I just don't want to go there, you know? I fear that the next time I check into reality I will be cursing my Blackberry in a subway stop because I can't download someone's cv.

TR

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apple computers have less problems overall. But, I believe the source of the problem with your high speed connection has something to do with the transfer of power from one telephone company to the other. If you are not with Bell South or AT&T, you may be experiencing a form of "punishment" from this up and coming monopoly.

12:39 AM  

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