Writus Interruptus

May 3, 2006

I’ve fallen into a bad habit. I use the “dashboard” feature of the WordPress software that manages my content to do my composing and editing. I don’t have the software on my local computer, only on my site, and I need to be online to use it.

The purest way to prepare your content is to use a text editor to develop your piece and add the HTML code as you go. Another way is to use an HTML editor or a WYSIWYG composer that adds code automatically in the background as you work. In the beginning I learned the most basic codes and used an authoring tool for a while. As coding became more complicated I began depending more and more on Netscape Composer because I could no longer manage the coding myself. When we had dial-up access, I worked offline and saved my stuff to my hard drive, then connected and uploaded.

Even when I used the space I have at Typepad, I would compose in a word processing program in my hotel room, save it to a floppy, and then drop the work into TypePad with cut and paste when I got to the computer room of the library or conference site I was using. But now that we have broadband cable internet service in the house, our connection is up all the time, and when I started using WordPress I started using the composing window in the online interface. This isn’t a problem if you save your work often. I tend not to. (It also doesn’t have a spellcheck. You’ve probably noticed that!)

I did a lot of work on my sites this week, updating this section with the story of my friend Charlie’s funeral, resurrecting Refiguring (my weight loss blog), and finally getting Always Books in Your Room, Margaret started. (This means, of course, that I’m still using The Music Man’s “think system” on my fiction rather than forging ahead with new work.) Today I decided to write the “about” page pieces that will explain why this journal is called Markings and why the book blog has its name.

I knew that a technician from the cable company was due to visit this morning. We’ve been experiencing download speeds that would have even The Slowskys feeling impatient. The diagnosis from tech support at Comcast was that our system was enduring “packet loss.” (Maybe that’s what the squirrels have been carrying up onto the deck and pounding open.) We got a new router that improved things some, but Comcast still recommended a visit from a technician, since we were also experiencing some pixelation and loss of sound quality on some of our high definition television channels.

I worked for an hour or so this morning and saved everything almost after every sentence so I could shut the works down when the techincian came. He found strain on the splitters and some deteriorated connections outside. When he left, we had the blistering speed and superior picture quality Comcast promises. I powered up, and went back to work.

And immediately reverted to my bad habits of writing without saving, of calling up a dozen or so files from four or five programs (courting local system crash when one application blunders into another), and of keeping everything in my head so that an interruption can erase my concentration and derail me for the rest of the day.

Ron went out to do errands and discovered that both exit paths from the neighborhood were hard to navigate. Up the hill to the west (“the back way”), a crew from Verizon was digging up the street. They’re putting in conduits for DSL service (the kind of internet service the Slowskys prefer). At the east end (the connection to the rest of the world), another crew had dug waist-deep trenches that workers were standing in while they wielded pickaxes and digging irons. Chances are that in the next few days both crews will work their way toward each other up our street (which is marked with an array of colorful “Dig Here!” lines) and meet, probably in front of our house, like the train construction crews in Promontory Point, Utah.

At precisely 12:00, while Ron was eating his lunch and watching the news, the internet quit and the TV went snowy.

You’d think that darkness was covering the face of the deep. I stared at my screen. Google was inaccessible (I need to know, right now, what a “brazen bull”* is!). When was the last time I’d saved anything? And understand, we still had electricity (and my laptop runs on batteries anyway) so if I wanted to continue to write I could do that, even if I had to revert to that old-fashioned device, pencil and paper. But I sat there, feeling helpless.

The cable remained off for two hours, during which time I went out (mostly to check out the mess the diggers were making of the neighborhood) and actually visited Borders Books without buying anything, not even a magazine, because I wanted to be at home writing on my Web interface composing screen.

I arrived home at 2:00 and shortly thereafter the internet connection winked back on and CNN was once again emanating from the television. (They were talking about an earthquake in Australia. Maybe that had something to do with the problem.) On my way back from turning the set off I saw that a light on the telephone was blinking, yet the message window said “0.”

I picked up the handset. No dial tone. No dial tone on any of the other phones either.

How do you call the telephone repair service to report that you have no dial tone when you need a dial tone to call the repair service?

Fortunately, we are fully wired. I used my cell phone. But we live in a little pocket of spotty service. The same lush trees and undulating terrain that puts our house in a cozy dell also interrupts cell phone signals. I stood out in the driveway but found that I had to hold the phone a certain way in order to be able to hear what was being said. I had to punch in numbers, so I had to lower the set from my ear, refocus my eyes on my telephone bill, read part of the sixteen-digit account number and punch it in . . . And I’m not even talking to a person. I am talking to a voice on an automated script that chooses the next response depending on what I’ve told it. (Hint to Verizon: It’s ridiculous to have your recorded voice say “Please wait while I get your file” and “I have your account information in front of me,” as if this is a live person who has rummaged through a drawer and has a folder open on her desk. And don’t have her/it ask, “Are you calling from the problem line now?” If I could call from that line . . . )

The automated voice launched into instructions I was to follow for determining if the problem was with them or inside my house. So I’m trying to hold the phone at the right angle, write down the instructions (because I don’t remember strings like that just from hearing them — I’m not Chloe on 24!), and trying to get a real person by saying “Agent!” periodically.

Finally a real person came on the line. I said we had no phone service. “Are you calling from that line?” I assured her I was not, and that I had tested all the phones in the house to make sure I wasn’t trying to use the one defective one.

She said I had to perform a line check, even though I was 99% certain that this was the phone company’s problem. “They’re digging up the street!” I said. “Well, I have no record of that,” said the woman. “There is nothing in my information to suggest this is a phone company problem.”

The line check involved going down into the basement where the junction box had been installed thirty years ago not in any accessible place but high in the rafters behind some insulation. In the meantime, we’d installed a work bench in front of the space and more or less forgotten, if we ever knew, that the equipment was there and that someday we might need access to it. After determining that there was no dial tone coming into the house, I called the repair service again, said “Agent!” about four times until the system (“Talk to the system!”) understood, and told the next live person that this was indeed (evidently) a phone company problem.

“Well, there’s no information about that here,” she said. She wrote a service call order and said a technician would be out sometime between 8 am and 6 pm the next day. “This might cost you $91 an hour,” she said, “if the problem is in your house wiring.” She once again insisted that there was no information about digging in the neighborhood, and she assured me that the dial tone wouldn’t just come back on without this intervention. But she told me to call if it did.

It did, some time around 10:00. I know this because the phone rang. After I ended that call I called the repair line again, pressing and speaking and responding through the whole automated routine. “I see a trouble ticket has recently been cleared on this line,” said the cheery automated voice. “I’m sorry you’re having another problem. Please say what the problem is.” I said that I didn’t have a problem, I was trying to cancel the service call for another one. “I’m sorry. I can’t understand such a long message. Please say your problem again in simpler words.”

I merely sighed and hung up. Ron says it should be interesting when Verizon calls to try to convince us to switch away from cable to DSL.

*A brazen bull is an ancient torture device in which the victim is roasted alive. Now you know too!

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