Politics

04.24.13

Errors in the Field

I don’t hate electronics. Though not a gadgethead, I’m actually pretty fond of them. But there are days that I hate them. This was one of them, and I’m really curious to know whether this kind of thing happens to you.

So last year, after holding on to an aging laptop for a couple of years too long, just out of laziness and a rationale that my travel was sparse enough that it didn’t really constitute such a great inconvenience, I finally updated. I got an HP Folio laptop, a cute little thing that weighs no more than a dinnerplate, and a Google Nexus 7, then brand new to the market. The old laptop had become close to completely useless. It worked at home as a secondary computer to run Pandora through the stereo and such tasks. Fine.

But when I depended on it—in a hotel room, in a Starbuck’s, what have you—it always disappointed. It couldn’t sniff the network, or would eventually do so after 40 minutes, or would do so and then lose the connection in five minutes, and do that over and over and over again. I would go online to read about why these things happen and carefully work my way through various discussion boards, but these discussions were and are held at levels above my comprehension and might as well have been in Farsi.

Even so, with the new equipment, I thought I was all set. I marveled at the laughing ease with which my little HP located (without my having to do anything!) my home network. I tightened my chest and then released it in exhilaration as my Google machine located the network at my sister-in-law’s house, in a matter of seconds. I was finally going to become one of those people. You know; those people who are so confident in their machines’ ability to deliver them to salvation that if they have even two spare minutes in an airport, they don’t hesitate to pull them out.

There were early problem signs. We took a vacation not long after these purchases, a long driving vacation, during which I found that the Google machine couldn’t seem to locate a network in a motel. At a private home, yes. But public networks, no. I called Google, pulsing with anxiety, but to my astonishment the guy just said, “Wow. Sorry. I’ll send you a new one.” And he did.

Next up, the HP. It, too, was having trouble in public locations. At home—zip zap zoop. At anyone’s home, in fact—aforementioned sister-in-law, or my own sister’s—perfecto. But out in public? Temperamental at best. A couple weeks ago at National Airport, everything was fine. But in other venues, nothing. Sometimes in a hotel room. After midnight one night in a hotel in New York, I called the number the hotel instructed me to call, and this very kind woman spent 45 minutes on the phone with me trying everything she could think of, sending me a specific IP address of my very own, which she verified to me that no one else in this vast hotel was using! Nothing.

It failed me at the convention—the convention! I kinda need to work at a convention. Perhaps there it was overwhelmed by the sheer number of networks. I don’t know. But it couldn’t establish a wireless connection. Fortunately, the Democratic Party provided a limited number of wired connections, so I arrived early enough to make sure I got one of those.

About three months ago on a flight, trouble struck again. This time, it so happened, a gentleman sitting behind me was both knowledgeable and kind enough to take me into the heart of darkness, as it were, and show me some tricks that I’d never have cottoned onto on my own. Go to start, type in “cmd,” do this and do that, type in “ipconfig,” or maybe “netsh winsock reset.”

All this, as some of you know, is done on the black screen at the old C Prompt. It was like traveling back in time, and I thought of colleagues long vanished from the memory well. If none of that works, he said, type in “devicemanager,” select such-and-such a thing, uninstall it, restart, and it will automatically reinstall, and that might help. On that flight, it did! And, on that flight, I signed up for gogoinflight. I encountered the normal delays and struggles, but I did get online.

Which brings us to today. The plane takes off. Out comes the laptop. Up comes a little box on the desktop from gogoinflight inviting me to follow them out into the cyber universe. I click. Nothing much happens. I wait, and wait. And wait. I right click on Open Network Center. I select Choose a Network. It tells me I’m connected to gogoinflight; great! But at the same time, that little exclamation point inside the yellow triangle is clearly sitting there on the lower right, mocking me. Yet up screen a little ways, it insists I’m connected. This happens, by the way, all…the…time.

I go back and do some of the stuff the nice gentleman told me to do. The device manager business appears perhaps to have maybe sorted things out. I’m 15 or 20 minutes into this.

I try again. The same conflict between “connected” and yellow triangle exists, but now, I get the little message saying that I should open my browser for further instruction, which hard experience has taught can be a hopeful sign. Which I do. And there’s the Firefox homepage, but I also know from experience that that is a false front, so to speak signifying connection to nothing (why does Firefox do this, anyway, raise and dash the hopes of millions?). I try to connect to Google or something, and the wheels spin for a while, nothing much happening—we’re at 30 minutes now, I’d say—and finally I am delivered to a page featuring the logos of American Airlines and Gogoinflight.

Now comes the real heartache, the stuff I could write a country song about. Forgetting momentarily that I had signed up for ggif previously, I start filling out all the questions. After several minutes of this, a message pops up telling me that my email address is already registered. Ah, okay. So now it’s just a matter of remembering, or correctly guessing, what I’d put as a password. I have two or three standard things I use, but lately, having read more and more about password infiltration, I’ve been mixing it up a little. I try about three different things. None is right.

I assume that somewhere in my inbox, I have an email from ggif telling me my password. The Catch 22 of course is that since I’m not online, I can’t search my inbox!

Well, to their credit, the good people at ggif have thought of this, because when you then click on “Forgot Password?”, it doesn’t do the usual thing of “we will email you a link to create a new password.” No, instead, it takes you to a page where you are asked to answer three questions: mother’s maiden name; last four digits of credit card; ZIP code with which said credit card is associated. Finally! I’m 45 minutes in, but now I felt like Eisenhower must have felt after crossing the bridge at Remagen.

The little wheel spins. The page is refreshed. And: There were errors in the field. Something gone wrong in the mother’s maiden name field. What? I know my mother’s maiden name. It’s a pretty straightforward name, in fact; an Ellis Island bastardization of a wonderfully melodic Italian surname. Five letters. I try again. Same result. Maybe it’s case sensitive. Same result. Maybe I used the melodic Italian version for some odd reason. Nope. Maybe I spaced out and used her married name. Nada. Maybe I transposed a couple of the letters, typing too fast. Zilcho.

So now I’m stuck. This really is the dead end. I can’t sign up for a new ggif account. Well, I guess I could, using an email address that I own but never ever use, but now I just don’t fucking feel like it.

This, I suppose, is my fate with machines. One way or another, no matter what I buy and which tricks I learn, it will be thus. And don’t tell me to buy a Mac. I’m an Android/PC person, and I have my reasons. But a Mac wouldn’t help. This is la forza del destino, as they say. (And yeah, I'm going to know my ggif password from now on, I suppose.) I wonder what percentage of the population this applies to, because needless to say, when I'm banging my head over these things, I look around at others using their technology and they all look like serenity itself.

Like the man across the way in 15B, working on his laptop. He’s obviously been online since shortly after we took off, wearing the contented look of a man who probably doesn’t even know that problems like mine exist; a Candide of the techno age. I gaze at him in wonder and envy, and take one last look at that yellow-triangled exclamation point, that harlot of an icon, as I decide to pack it up because now I’m out of battery juice too.