My lost weekend without an internet connection

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The Independent Online

Friday, 10.40am: The Silicon Valley sun is blazing like a Pentium III with a cheap cooling fan. The odour of warm bark - there are redwood trees outside my window - fills the room.

Friday, 10.40am: The Silicon Valley sun is blazing like a Pentium III with a cheap cooling fan. The odour of warm bark - there are redwood trees outside my window - fills the room.

I'm working the Net from home, downloading info about my startup's competition over a speedy, reliable Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). I'm feeling good, knowing I'll soon have the data to crush the insects that dare compete for MY markets. Beat 'em with data downloaded from their own sites.

Life is good.

10.45am: Suddenly, error messages all over my screen: "Unable to connect to URL", "Unable to connect to mail server: retry?", "Domain Name Servers not responding", "Server is not responding, server may be down or off-line. Retry later."

The browser stalls in mid-page, the email client is flashing icons like a Las Vegas slot machine gone mad. IRQ freezes, Napster chokes on the rare Blind Lemon Rabinowicz basement tapes that I've been pursuing on clandestine East European servers for three months.

The Web is wonked; email has bailed; IRQ says "IR dead". The "down" has stopped "loading". Houston, we have a problem.

11am: On the phone with my ISP. Guy with a whiny, uncertain voice doesn't have a clue, opens a "trouble ticket", number 15,172. Not a good sign.

6pm: Seven phone calls later, a night-shift technician admits I'm looking at a non-trivial problem. Expect a three- to seven-day repair cycle, she says. DSL is tricky when it breaks, she says.

Three to seven days? That's an eternity in internet time, Bubba. The technician hangs up. She might as well have said, "You're hosed, loser."

My DSL modem blinks frantically at me. It can't find the network. It sinks in. It's Friday, a whole weekend stretches ahead, and I'm disconnected. I'm facing three days with no email, no Web surfing, no IRC chat, no Napster, and all of my Web servers are off-line. Even worse, my friend Dave Cole's servers, co-located in my garage, are off-line. It's one thing to have your own machines down, but to have somebody else's as well, it's embarrassing.

Why is it embarrassing? Because Real Men Fix Things. Real Men Get Action, Now. Wimps write down their trouble ticket number, and allow themselves to be hung up on.

For the first time since 1994, I'm off the Net. A shiver runs through my body. My hands are clammy. Breathing isn't coming easy.

I feel hollow. I feel empty. I'm off the Net. Once a proud node among the 200 million others, gulker.com is now reduced to invisibility. The enormity of it all sweeps over me like a wave of last year's Celeron PCs.

I can just see email from Jim Clark or Steve Jobs going unanswered for three days, or worse, bouncing. Not that Steve or Jim ever email me: but if they ever were going to, it would be now, while I'm helpless.

I can see the emails: "Chris, saw your website, you'll be the perfect CEO of my next startup, MegaBuckScape. Gotta start now - email me right away! - Jim."

"Chris - Apple needs you! Looking for someone to run Apple so I can spend more time at Pixar. Call me right now - Steve. PS - don't listen to Jim Clark -we'll double his offer."

My DSL modem can't find the network. I look at the three-month-old computer in front of me like it's junk. Its processor is so fast that it's on the US Defence Department's "no-export" list. I bragged about it to friends. Now its glowing, useless 21-inch screen mocks me.

But wait! I remember when these things used to stand alone, off the Net. Quickly, I dig into the Applications folder. There's a word processor. An image editor. And 114 Net apps, plug-ins and helpers. I'm starting to sink badly now.

I dive into the Documents folder: all I see are useless alias files and copies of Web pages I discarded long ago.

Phone rings. It's an entrepreneur I know, who wants to show my website to some guys and he can't get in. When this man talks about "guys", he usually means, "big-deal investors". I tell him my whole link is down. "What?" he says, and hangs up quick, in case what I've got is contagious over the phone.

Life is real, real bad.

It's too painful to describe the rest of the weekend: suffice it to say, books were read, magazines were scanned, we redesigned our website (it's hosted on our LAN). Some cult DVDs found their way into the Net-less top-of-the line computer: Blade Runner, Brazil and the real classic, Johnny Mnemonic.

I returned voice mail from January. I opened three-month-old mail, discovering why my Internet Visa card hasn't been working ("suspicious activity" - meaning I had bought something in a local, brick-and-mortar store, instead of from Amazon.com or WebVan).

2am Monday: Seventeen phone calls later and some tech, somewhere, Does The Right Thing, and gulker.com is restored. 'Scuse me. Gotta get on the Net. Searching under "Backup Internet Service".

cg@gulker.com

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