The day the Internet died

1. Geek for a day

I don't think I've ever felt like such a computer geek in my life.

Today I find myself sitting in a large room in the Wellington Town Hall surrounded by other computer programmers, workmates, and industry peers. We're organized into neat sitting rows on red mid-backed chairs, all facing a side of the room where a speaker's podium and projection screen reside. The chairs are only slightly cushioned to prevent my body from aching for somewhere between 5 to 20 minutes, depending on how interesting I find the current speaker and their topic, and the large but few windows let in hints of a sunny day from the outside, but do little to alter the contrast of the current speaker's slide. It isn't the light that's a problem, but having forgotten to bring my glasses, I find myself trying to get the majority of the presentation from my ears rather than my eyes.

The current speaker - whose job title includes the words 'technology evangelist' - an older man whose features tend towards the young side of the middle-age spectrum, is presenting what feels like more of a marketing pitch than a technology talk. But I can spot the relevance in his presentation, as well as the other presentations that I'll be attending today; all of which are small introductions to a host of current and upcoming technologies which can be used to aid Java programmers, like myself, with their development work.

Yes, I'm at a programmer's conference.

Before today, the worst it ever got was having to fix computers for friends, family, and family friends. The best example is how Melissa, on several occassions, asked me over to her place for the sole intent and purpose of getting her computer to do something it didn't do before, like: connect to the internet, type Japanese characters, or work.

Having the ability to fix computers isn't such a bad thing. Considering the proliferation of computers in today's world, there's always a need for that friend who can fix a computer, and the prospect leaves me feeling like a very useful human being. Although I never feel that useful when an old computer sits opened-up in front of me, dust swirling through the air threatening to clog my nostrils while getting my hands and arms cut on the sharp edges of it's metal case.

After what must have been the 5th session of triple bypass surgery for Melissa's PC, Richard showed me a site where they sell a t-shirt with the words "No, I will not fix your computer." written on the front. If I had that shirt, plus my glasses, I would have easily fit-in with the majority of today's conference crowd.

To anybody whose job doesn't involve programming, today's presentations and speeches would seem to drive a stake of boredom through a vampire's heart. I surprise myself by staying awake, attending every session, and actually being interested in what the speakers have to say. Unlike university where most afternoon lectures were a constant battle to stave-off sleep (something which I remedied by raiding Gavin's and Michelle's psychology lectures and falling asleep there instead. Although that didn't always work, especially during the more fascinating lectures like the one when the hypnotist came in).

At lunch time, even though they provided food, I left the building to look for lunch elsewhere. They weren't serving anything bad, but if I stayed there for 8 hours straight, I don't think I would've survived the afternoon's round of presentations.

Staying in the same building - which has some relation to work - for hour after hour feels as if it has some effect on time and space; the longer I spend in a building that has something to do with work, the longer it takes for an hour to pass.

Getting out of the building around mid-day (eg: lunch time) is a simple cure to reset the timer. Without doing that, it would feel like I was being imprisoned in the Town Hall for a better part of eternity.

I walk out of the Town Hall and into the bright sunny day, walking in random directions as I decide what to have for lunch.

2. A summer grin

It was the closing days of summer, but nobody walking down this street would've known it. New Zealand received a rather late summer season. Just as most of us had started to give up on it ever arriving at all, it greeted us in full force as soon as the date clocked over to 2007. Like a Christmas present shipped from overseas, it's late arrival was both a surprise and a welcome gift.

Pity it decided to leave on schedule instead of hanging-around longer to make-up for lost time.

March started to show very early signs of abating sunshine: the sun being bullied into a tinier corner of the sky by the bigger and badder clouds of gray, light gray, and dark gray. A week from now, an autumn/winter weather hybrid will descend on this country bringing flooding, several cold fronts, and an overflowing crater lake within the space of a few days.

But nobody can predict the future, meaning everyone now was taking the hot sun and blue skies that idled above our heads for granted. Especially this tall guy I see in the distance, walking this way wearing one of the biggest grins I have ever seen. Once he came within the minimum range of the myopic haze that clouds my long-range vision, I saw that it was Simon Gow, and then knew that grin wasn't entirely a byproduct of the lovely weather.

A few days ago, I was walking towards a bakery on Victoria Street which I've affectionately named 'the pie shop'. That bakery won a '#1 pie in NZ' award some years back, and I've been going there on a semi-regular basis just for the pies. That day, Simon and his mates were walking in the opposite direction to a roti & curry place, also on Victoria St.

Sort-of bumping into eachother, we ended-up going to the roti & curry place, and talked about all sorts of things: his programming job, my programming job, other peoples' programming jobs and the amounts they're earning - leaving us both in a jealous rage at the dumb luck that some people just get - and his new MacBook.

Not that I haven't heard a lot of what Simon had to say about the pros of his MacBook, but now that I know of 2 friends who have 'converted' to MacBooks (the other one being Simon Campbell), I'm starting to notice a pattern amongst Mac users: they can't ever seem to shut up about how good they are.

So now Simon's talking about how wonderful the MacBook is, and I just can't bring myself to rebuke his claims. I mean, what am I gonna counter with? How great Windows XP has been to me these passed few years? To borrow a line from Chris Rock, Windows XP would be " the Uncle that paid your way through college (pause) but molested you."

His trip to Germany also came up.

I learned from various other sources that Simon was going to Germany, but the reasoning was never that clear. From Janna, she gave me a one-word reason: girl. From Matthew, who subsequently heard it from Sam, he gave me a two-word reason: chasing skirts. Knowing Simon, both reasons were completely legitimate, and I never bothered to argue these speculated motivations.

Germany was only a few days away, next Tuesday in fact, so it was one helluva stroke of luck to run into him today. The lunch ends with him taking a photo of me for one of his MacBook programs, then us going our separate ways.

Imagine my surprise to see him again today, wearing what I first mistook for a 'this summer is great' grin. Knowing what I do now from our lunch just a few days ago, I can read the second meaning behind that face. It was more of a 'Screw you bitches, I'm going to Germany!' grin, one which exuded both cheesiness and energy, enough to bathe Simon in an incandescent glow sufficient to brighten some dark corner of a 3rd world nation. Or serve as a beacon for incoming aircraft. His height would make him ideal for that purpose.

We cross paths, without slowing down.

"Holy crap man, I thought you'd be gone already."

"Not yet, just got some stuff to do."

"Oh yeah, not Tuesday yet. Well, have a good trip man."

Have a good trip.

3. The last stupid walk

It seems that when people I know begin to move in directions that take them very far away, fate conspires to have me run into them more often until the day they go. Gow was a prime example, and Kate would be the second person to add proof to this theory.

Fast-forward a week, to a Friday morning train on it's way to Wellington. The doors have just closed to pick-up passengers from the last station before rushing to the city. A well-dressed version of Kate Smith - light shirt, thin black jacket, and black boots with a long dark (denim?) skirt to match - has just boarded and looks left and right for a seat on the train.

She doesn't normally dress this well? I think to myself. I wonder what the occasion is? Oh yeah...

She spots me, smiles as she walks in my direction, and sits-down in the empty seat next to me.

"Hi there." says Kate as she pulls the signature white earphones of her iPod (Nano) from her ears and puts them away.

"Hi Kate." I reply, staring almost jealously at the iPod Nano. "Last day at the old job huh? You certainly look the part."

During our walks to/from university/work over the years, Kate has always held the majority of the conversation, which is a good thing because if I don't have anything to work with, I don't have much to joke or talk about. Nowadays, she talks a lot about her current job at university, how it's almost finished, and how she can't wait to start her new job. From what I've gathered, the new job will be more attuned to what Kate wants to do, although it's all the way out in some suburb in the Hutt with a name I can't remember in a place I can't find on a map. I notice myself drawing parallels between Kate's anticipation of her new job, and a 4 year old's anticipation of Santa Claus, and I can't help but feeling glad for her.

Seems there's a lot of work-related stuff going-on for her, whereas the only semi-exciting work story I can think of is how I missed-out on an earthquake because I was spinning on my office chair as I waited for my computer to start.

"Whoa, did you feel that?" says one of my office mates.

"Yeah, small earthquake there." replies another.

"Earthquake what?" I say as I stop spinning on my chair.

"Didn't you feel that?"

"No..." I say, somewhat regretably.

Or maybe how, during the annual golf tournament - where work creates makeshift putting courses out of the carpeted areas between desks, tables, and other workplace obstacles - someone created a mock water hazard by drawing blue and fishes on printer paper. I walked onto one of these water hazards, then fell to the floor pretending I couldn't swim, proving that papercuts weren't the only way to injure yourself with A4s.

It's feels good sometimes to get away with these things because I'm the youngest person at work.

This passed week, her topics of discussion have included complaining about her height, complaining about her age (Kate is also the youngest at her work, although I doubt she spends her time spinning on office chairs), complaining about a New Zealand Customs procedure that has given her gray hairs, and of course, complaining about her soon-to-be old job. Looking at that list, you'd think there's no room for joy in that heart of hers. But she's a lovely girl, really.

No, really.

Now, walking along Lambon Quay...

"I've got a Mac at work," Kate says about her current job, "and I'm always having to press the Apple key on the keyboard. Then when I go home, no Apple key! Aaa! Stupid Apple key."

Nice to hear that not everybody is impressed with their Mac.

"So after today, no more stupid Apple key, no more stupid escalator," she says as she points to an escalator she usually takes to work. Funnily enough, the escalator isn't even moving; truly a stupid escalator.

"And no more stupid walk!" she finishes.

"Hey," I reply defensively, "I actually kinda like this walk!"

"Oh." she says, half apologizing for the previous remark with the expression on her face.

I never get around to saying that she's the reason I quite enjoy these walks, because by then she's moved to the foot of the stupid escalator, and I'm 3 metres away on Lambton Quay's stupid footpaths. That 3 metres might as well have been 3 astronomical units, for the ambient noise of the nearby morning traffic drowns-out anything I have to say.

So instead, I mime rubbing imaginary tears from my eyes, muster-up an 'I'm sad to see you go' smile, wave goodbye, and walk away.

4. The day the Internet died

So, no more Gow, no more Kate... I think as I sit at work waiting for my work computer to start-up. Instead of spinning on the office chair (in-case I miss another earthquake), I silently count-off my fingers as I name other friends who have found themselves anywhere but here, and quickly run out of fingers.

With the computer now ready, I start my usual morning ritual of browsing news, technology, and games sites. One of these being a browser-based game I've been playing since university.

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Games Sites

Ah crap! The company-wide Internet site filter takes effect today!

Many people on my floor have been dreading this day, fearing that they will no longer be able to fuel their addiction to the online auction/bargain if TradeMe gets blocked.

Time to see what else I've got left.

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Games Sites

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Games Sites/Computing IT

I then try TradeMe, to see if it still goes. By some small miracle, it seems to be accessible. I can already hear the sighs of relief coming from my co-workers.

I then try my own website, and am not too surprised to see it isn't blocked. Maybe it's a .nz thing?

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Gaming


Now that I've told another workmate about the filter, we spend the morning discovering what other sites have been blocked, and find some hilarity at what they get categorized as. I think my best finds had to be deviantArt: an online art community, and MySpace: a social networking site and haven for emo kiddies around the globe.

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Adult Content, Entertainment, Chatrooms, Personal Beliefs/Cults, Clubs and Societies

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Dating Sites, Shopping, Entertainment, Personal Beliefs/Cults, www-Email Sites, Music Downloads

With so many sites blocked, I feel I'm on the wrong side of a proverbial Iron Curtain; the East Berlin of the Internet. I keep trying to see where I can go, and am surprised to see that The Onion: a satirical news site poking fun at current affairs, is accessible. Maybe I can still watch one of my favourite online cartoons, Weebl & Bob: about 2 egg-shaped things on the eternal quest for pie. A strange concept, I know, but hey it's pie. Maybe the guys were on something when they came up with the idea...

Access to this site is not permitted.

Category: Game Sites, Entertainment, Drugs/Alcohol

Ha, maybe my guess wasn't too far from the truth after all.