2.16.2014

leave the machines be

vintage waffle iron, interior with patina

My friend Jeff and I spent six hours yesterday trying to get my wireless connection running again after switching out the modem. And this was all because, to save eight dollars a month, I had decided to give Comcast back their modem I'd been renting for years and instead use an extra modem of Jeff's. Don't ask why I'd never gotten my own modem before now—who knows? It's probably because I've only now figured out the difference between a modem and a router.

Quite obviously, I'm not the most technical person, and neither is Jeff, but at least he can rewire a lamp and install a car stereo system. However, we both know the best technical support on the planet comes from a simple Google search. Fortunately, after a couple long calls with Comcast to convey and reassign the MAC ID, the new-to-me modem was working and we could at least wire my laptop directly into the WAN to ask all the fine Apple customers on the Mac forums how they got their solid amber lights on their AirPorts to turn green.

We tried every trick we could find, other than messing with the DSN's, doing a hard reset to factory settings several times, plus resetting the Motorola modem itself to factory settings, and so on. Jeff even called up a computer-guru friend to run things by him. Either the router wasn't talking to the modem or the router had fried, even though it was only eight months old. "It can happen," said the computer guru. Finally, Jeff got the amber light to turn green, which mainly involved unplugging, waiting, and replugging wires in a certain order and time frame a bunch of times and reconfiguring the network ID and password.


vintage 1930's Seneca waffle iron

Meanwhile, depressed and frustrated, with the guilty refrain "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" looping in my head, I'd taken a break to de-stress by cooking a pot of white-bean-and-kale soup and whipping up some whole-wheat waffle batter (because Jeff had for some reason been craving waffles for weeks).

After the wireless seemed to be working again, the LED light green, he joined me in the kitchen, ladling batter into a vintage Art Deco waffle iron with Bakelite handles, a hand-me-down from a friend, a 1930's Seneca machine that still worked perfectly. We marveled how products used to be built to last rather than self-destruct in planned obsolescence. The red "on" light (as if you couldn't tell the iron was on from the escaping steam and burning hot metal) was simply a glass dot, window to the glowing element inside the top cover—ingenious. So, waffles in hand, we sat down at my coffee table and turned on the Apple TV and Netflix to watch another episode of the diabolical series House of Cards, only to have the connection fizzle after less than a minute of dialogue. I checked my laptop connection; some sites loaded quickly, some slowly, and then nothing but blank pages. Can't find server.

Dejected and beaten, we agreed to just let technology drop for the night and instead eat waffles, play cards, and meet up in the morning for a trip to the Apple Store, so they could test my router to see if it needed replacing (and all to save eight dollars a month). After getting creamed at gin rummy, I said thanks and goodnight to Jeff and turned off the surge protector, shutting off all power to that whole tangled, embarrassing cord-pile of spaghetti in the living room corner in a last-ditch effort at resolution since at least one Google user had mentioned that leaving everything off overnight magically made everything work together in the morning.

So we all slept: machines, cat, and human. I woke this morning, expecting to face that solid amber warning light, that digital refusal to talk, to let me talk. Yesterday was illogically stressful, reminding me how dependent I've become—most people have become—on Internet connectivity and, like addicts, how crazy one can become without it—and even when a person has it but not as accustomed, without wires. Jeff and I had joked, Remember when the Internet was just a bunch of newsgroups? Remember when you had to ask somebody older or else break open an encyclopedia set or go to the library if you wanted to learn something? Remember when mail required stamps? Remember when everyone had landlines? Remember?


vintage waffle iron settings

I turned on the power strip this morning, heated up some coffee and half a waffle in the microwave, glanced back at the router and saw . . . a glowing green light. Who knew? The key to making machines get along is to leave them powerless and alone for hours in the dark—show them exactly who's boss.

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