The Key to Cable-Access

photo: mac plus, 1986

Not the first Macintosh, but the first one with
a pre-power Trabant in it.

Is the Garbage Room Door

Paris:- Friday, 23. May:- Monsieur Noos, the cable-Internet guy, came on Wednesday, a half hour late. Nevertheless I was ready for him. I had gotten up early in order to demolish my smallish living room cum editorial office, to lay open a route for the magic broadband wires.

All the beautiful empty surfaces I used to have were replaced by surfaces full of clutter - everything handy was no longer. The thought occurred to me that I should keep up the momentum and toss everything right out, to reduce my surroundings to minimal. I quit thinking this as soon as I had to look for a pen.

For the occasion, I had taped my door buzzer button to the door frame for Monsieur Noos to use. It hadn't fallen off overnight, so it worked went he arrived, giving me a sonic shock as usual. After this, no plans worked as planned.

The background involves having a dialup access to the Internet, and this goes back to 1994. At the time, the modemphoto: baby hermes portable was plugged into an underpowered 1989 model computer. It worked fine until the day when the hard disk froze at the same time as the monitor died. It is still in this state. The replacement monitor I got for it was too modern.

Early forerunner of the home computer was this 'Baby' Hermes postable.

Way back, a long time ago, the head of Apple's R & D for Europe had enthusiastically praised the new PowerMacs. "Ricky, they are powerful!! You should have one!" he said to me.

He didn't tell me the new-model machines had been put on the market without having an appropriate operating system. In fact, the European head of R & D didn't know this, because he didn't have a PowerMac himself.

While continuing to use the older 'pizza-box' before it died, I fiddled with the new one occasionally, which only taught me to consider the entire computer industry with loathing - except for some of the nifty software, which would have been really super if it had an operating system to work with.

I was probably the first person in the world to believe that a powerful new computer with audio-visual capacities could record video. It could, in a way. It could record single images, by way of an S-video cable tied to a Hi-8 camera. It was sort of a rotten scanner, with a zoom lens.

Anyway, the 'pizza-box' dropped dead so I had to use the 'Power' thing - finally starting regular use of it about 18 months after unpacking it. Some time later - maybe a year - a stable operating system arrived. After another couple of years, a big dose of extra memory turned it into a reliable machine. Now, it is about 10 years old.

The reason for switching to cable from dialup access is simple. My Internet provider - unchanged since early in 1995 - has sold itself and its 40,000 subscribers out, twice. A note arrived two weeks ago saying the 'Worldnet' domain will cease in August.

On top of this, they are letting their servers deteriorate, so that my telephone bill has skyrocketed above the cost of cable-access. Slow uploads - 10 minutes to upload one image that normally takes six seconds - is also causing me to have some evil thoughts at 03:00 in the morning two or three times a week.

On Wednesday when Monsieur Noos arrived, he asked to see the computer's 'Ethernet' port. After getting behind some of the furniture for a view he couldn't find it, so I pointed it out. He said it wasn't. I said it was, in 1993.

This Monsieur Noos then informed me of all his Information-Technology degrees. Instead of hearing this I wanted to hear that he actually knew something about the time before he was born, and see him magicallyphoto: book, internet starter kit produce an adapter. This, his two-cubic-metre tool case, did not contain - even though the cable info brochure implied that it should.

Facing this impasse, we decided to find the cable itself. Outside my door there is another one that opens a garbage-chute room, and all of the building's wires are in it. The door, of course, was locked. I do not have a key. I never use this garbage-chute.

The first $19.95 do-it-yourself Internet Kit in a book.

There is no building guardian, and the management company is in Panama. Knocking on ground-floor doors got no result, so I knocked on my neighbor's door, and he was in.

"You don't have a garbage-chute room key?" he asked, adding, "Everybody has one."

My 'aha!' didn't last long because he said he did not have his own garbage-chute key either. He said he could get it from his girlfriend in a couple of days. To myself, I silently hoped that they are still 'friends.'

With this double impasse, Monsieur Noos gave me a lecture about being stupid enough to own any kind of Macintosh, and not having a garbage- chute key was equally inexcusable on account of how hard it is to park around here. He wheeled his toolcase into the eccentric elevator in a huff. He may still be in there.

My friend, Nigel from Australia, has been visiting the Rue Daguerre between visits to Annency, Italy and some unknown place near Dijon. He worked for Digital Equipment before it became Compaq before it became Hewlett-Packard before he became retired, by agreeing to not be a candidate for the next meltdown or take-over.

With all of his years' of experience, and especially the experience of seeing his older son wiring his household's four to six computers to the cable, he estimated my changeover from dialup to cable will take a month. "At least," he said.

Metropole has been through too many distressful times to lie down and weep a lot about something like this. I jumped on the métro and rode over to an edge of the 5th arrondissement, to an obscurephoto: extended keyboard shop named 'MicrOccase.'

Device for communicating with a computer with finger signals.

This shop is either a jungle or a maze containing piles of used computer stuff, most of it Macintosh compatible, in a space full of mezzanines, cellars, cubbyholes, but mainly, just full. At first glance it seems like a cavern full of strange junk. A second glance confirms the first impression.

With ten customers in the place the capacity of the place is two above the standing-limit. If you see this, it is better to go to the café across the street for a café until 14:19 the following afternoon.

On Wednesday I was lucky to be only about fourth in line by beating out the 15:00 rush. When my turn came I asked for an 'Ethernet' port with a Mac attached to it. To narrow the choice from the wide selection, I said how much I was - unwilling - but prepared to pay.

After gazing at ranks of side-stacked Macs, my guy finally picked one out. He slammed off its lid, blew some heavy dust out of it, attached a monitor and a mouse and plugged it in and turned it on. With a coffee-grinder-like noise, it ran. My guy added a 128 Mo memory bar - after snatching out the power cable, for safety.

One little problem showed itself. After its case-lid was slammed back on, thin vertical lines appeared on the monitor in the region of the mouse pointer. The lid was ripped off again and the Mac expert stuck in an index finger and poked at something obscure on the motherboard, until the lines disappeared. Then the power was plugged in again and the lines were gone.

So I paid him for it. And, since this particular machine contained an extra hard disk, I paid a bit extra for it too. A filthy mouse and the extended keyboard were gifts for having 'waited so long.' A CD-ROM with a fairly new system on it was tossed in as a 'good humor' bonus.

I staggered out of this den of Ali Baba and his merry Macmen and into the café across the street, to gather my wits to search for a taxi. One got me home quickly and I unhooked the antique Mac and hooked up my used- but-new 'Ethernet' treasure. Doing this required quite a number of serious acrobatics, with all the power cables on the floor and the mad spaghetti of the other computer cables linking all the hard disks in some supposedly scientific sequence.

After some grumbling and coffee-grinder noises, my monitor beamed up showed the thin vertical lines in the area of the mouse-pointer. I went into the bedroom and beat up an innocent pillow.

When calm enough again I unplugged my filthy used-but-new 'Ethernet' piece of trash and re-plugged in thephoto: powermac g3 beautiful old one and it worked like it usually does, and went out for some badly needed Café Life. When I told Nigel about it, he revised his cable-access estimate upwards to six weeks.

A used but clean computing box mostly full of air, with a fan.

Café Metropole Club day on Thursday allowed me a day of peace. As a reward, the flaky dialup connection even gave me a usefully fast IP number, and the day's 'report' was uploaded in 15 minutes instead of the usual 75.

The Ugly, the Bad and the Good

Today, I hook a taxi off the Avenue du Maine and it deposits me at the 'MicrOccase' shop 20 minutes before it reopens for the afternoon. Sitting on their stoop, I use the time usefully by doing nothing. About 10 minutes before the reopening another Monsieur shows up, wearing a tie and carrying a sensible portable.

In the shop on the button of 14:30, first in line, I explain the situation. One of the guys rips open the case, hooks up a monitor, a mouse and plugs in the power. The mysterious lines are still showing. He scratches his head and calls over the expert.

The whole routine of remove the case, hook and unhook the cables, replace the case, goes through many revolutions, but the lines remain on the monitor. Finally, it is discovered that merely poking the memory bars with a finger does weird things on the monitor.

He calls over the shop's extra-expert specialist Mac guru to look at this wonder and this one laughs, shakes his head and wanders off to sell printer ink refills.

An 'aha!' light-bulb lights up my man's eyes. The memory bars themselves are too high. Closing the case puts pressure on them. Shorter memory bars are found and installed and the case is closed again. The lines are still showing on the monitor. The expert looks at the 'motherboard' under everything else in the computer's box, with disgust.

I am not at all married to this machine and I say so. There are another ten or so similar ones up on a shelf or lying around the floor. The carcass of the dud one is laid aside on top of a floor model that is sitting on the only chair in the place.

A slightly faster model is chosen. A cleaner, nicer-looking one, with fewer dents and less dust in it. The short memory bars are yanked out of the filthy dud one, as well as the extra hard disk, and are installed in the new candidate. Hook up, turn on - and voilà! - no lines on the monitor.

It even seems to be quieter. I can get unused to the idea of getting used to the coffee-grinder noise. But putting the case lid on proves to be a problem. No amount of slamming, punching or kicking with get it shut.

A third machine is stripped of its lid, and this fits like a tight glove. I remember Tuco in the movie 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' assembling one pistol out of several pistols' parts. Another power-on trial shows no lines.

For my patience, and the extra speed of this later model, and some extra memory - it is offered as a 'cadeau' for only another 50euro 3 sign.

As soon as the cheque is handed over, I become past history and the first of the other dozen waiting computerphoto: metropole edit station fanatics receive some attention. I wrestle the big box into its carrying sack and cross the street to the café for some hot liquid relief.

This magazine's editing tool. Note rare analog calendar complete with saints' days.

Here the 'Ethernet' part of the story ends. If this week's Metropole is to be done it is going to get done by using a computer already hooked up and running. The 'new' used machine has a new system on it and there is no time to get lost in this kind of savage jungle.

This may be over-confidence - given the 18 months it took to get the old one running reliably - but all I have to do now to get cable-Internet access, is get the key to the garbage room door.

Then I can beg Monsieur Noos to come back and do his high-tech stuff. And hope my new 'Ethernet' thing suits him.

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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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